India | 2007
Tanuja Chandra is an Indian film director and writer. Her films include Hope and a Little Sugar and Zindagi Rocks.
I have just spent a very interesting month of May at a writer’s retreat called The Santa Maddelena Foundation in beautiful Tuscany, just half hour from Florence.
A leading Italian critic saw my film HOPE AND A LITTLE SUGAR in a film festival in Milan and being an advisor for the foundation, reccommended my name for a fellowship. It was something I had never done before, so I decided to accept their invitation and work on my screenplay there! I had a very enriching time, interacting with unusual writers from Brazil, UK, Ireland, who were writing their own novels there. Not only is the place gorgeous, but it’s also a very interesting melting pot of people from different countries who are invited there by the Baronessa Beatrice von Rezzori, the owner of the villa which used to be a ruin forty years ago when she and her husband bought it. Together they transformed it into a most tastefully done home which now houses many writers all year round. A typical day would have the writers meet at lunch and dinner, and work the rest of the time. Apart from swimming in the lovely aqua pool or taking long walks down those hills. On weekends, we would spend time exploring nearby cities like Florence, Siena, Bologna – places steeped in culture and history. And Italian food, as the world knows, is to die for! Those desserts, or as they’re called in Italy, Dolci – they can transport you to a place quite like heaven. These retreats can be very productive but also a lot of fun!
During an annual award function in Florence, I met many eminent writers as well as leading publishers of Italy, one of whom even lamented to me that he offered a huge sum of money for my brother Vikram Chandra’s book, SACRED GAMES, but was sadly outbidded by someone else! The setting of this function in the house of the Medicis, now a museum housing some of the most beautiful sculptures and frescoes of Renaissance art was a treat in itself. As was meeting the charming Isabella Rossellini who had come from New York just for the occassion.
But the most special treat for me by far was the visit of Ralph Fiennes who is an advisor for the foundation. He spent a few days at the villa during which he did a performance for us! It was an hour long monologue by Beckett called First Love, which he has done on stage in England and Australia. He enacted it most heart-breakingly. It was a superlative performance, just for a handful of us residents at Santa Maddelena, and it was mesmerizing. He spent most of the day rehearsing for it and seemed nervous before it. He needn’t have been. It was enjoyed by all thoroughly. He is a very intelligent man, who is funny and curious. He had many questions about Bollywood. We chatted extensively about filmmaking during which he talked about his debut directorial venture which he is about to start. I told him his nightmare had only just begun!