Woman of Substance

Chaand Chazelle, an actor, poet, writer and director, is ready with her first film, Throw of a Dice

Wrapped in a sparkling white chiffon sari, her lips painted red, her hair a mix of auburn and blonde, her eyes lined with kohl, Chaand Chazelle walks down the corridors of her university. It has been years since she passed out of Panjab University with an MA in Philosophy and dreams in her eyes. She had a reputation for being feisty, speaking her mind and tackling bullies.

Her first short story, which she penned when was hardly 13, was broadcast on All India Radio (AIR). She was the voice behind a youth programme on AIR too. All that changed when her husband abandoned her when she was three months pregnant. "Society is cruel, particularly Indian society, to women who are single, widowed or abandoned," she says. A 24-year-old Chazelle packed her things and joined her family in the UK. It was 1974, and she started all over again.

What followed were years of struggle to make a name for herself as the "voice of the voiceless" even as she brought up a son on her own.

She is visiting Chandigarh to screen her first film as a director, Throw of a Dice, produced by CVS Films. Chazelle steps out of the screening at the English department courtesy the META movie club, and gives a glimpse into the years that went into seeing this film come through, and the "million reasons" it had to be made. "I am fundamentally a writer and, all my life, it has been a conscious choice to act as a medium for those who suffer in silence or are discriminated against," she says. She writes in Urdu, Hindi and English, and has written, produced and directed an acclaimed one-woman show, Leave My Hair Alone. She also has a collection of short stories, Behind the Veil, to her credit. "Behind the Veil is a translation from my Urdu book, Naqaab Uthne Tak. This was a book written 30 years ago on female foeticide and sadly, this crime still exists," says Chazelle.

She adds that the world is yet to get rid of sexism, racism and classism. In 1984, she won the first prize in a playwriting competition and, despite promises by LBC Radio and other organisations, no one staged or broadcast her work. "So, I set up my own theatre company, Navrang Theatre, in 1992, and encouraged new writing by other women writers," she says.

Discrimination forms the basis of her first film. "What colour we are is determined genetically, and it is a gamble, hence the name, Throw of a Dice," explains Chazelle.

The protagonist of the film is Duncan, who is born is London but is of Trinidadian descent. The storyline explores how the murder of his brother changes his life and how he attempts to protect his unborn child using science. The film has a British cast, and the music is by Chazelle's son, Vikram Sharma. It took Chazelle 10 years to get the funding and script together as well as research on genetics. Screening the film, she adds, was an equally uphill journey.

Her next project, on the Kohinoor diamond, explores the subject beyond the colonial loot. She is also planning to stage her play, Leave my Hair Alone at the Tagore Theatre soon.

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