Cliché dictates that most aspiring actresses will wait tables to make ends meet. Tannishtha Chatterjee, who appears in the film “Brick Lane” opening Friday, chose a more eccentric path. After graduating from the National School of Drama in New Delhi, Chatterjee, who was born in Pune, outside Mumbai, found herself one of three singers in Teer, India’s first all-girl band. “It was very cheesy pop. It thankfully lasted for not more than six months,” she laughs. Since then, Chatterjee has appeared onstage in theaters across Europe; and even starred in the occasional Bollywood endeavor. In “Brick Lane,” based on the Monica Ali novel, she plays Nazneen, a young Bangladeshi woman sent by her family to London’s East End to marry a man decades her senior.

ACT YOUR AGE: Chatterjee was the first person to audition for the role of Nazneen. And though British director Sarah Gavron was taken with her reading, she took some convincing. “She said, ‘We like you, but you look too young to play a mother of two kids,'” recalls the actress, 28. “Then I told her, ‘Asian women look much younger than they are. Their skin doesn’t age and they don’t get gray hair.'”

This story first appeared in the June 16, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

SCIENCE FICTION: Acting was not always the plan for Chatterjee. In college, she had more technical pursuits in mind. “I majored in chemistry. I wanted to be a biochemist. I was very fascinated by pollution and wanted to work on the environment. Then I don’t know what happened to me. I just said to myself, ‘I don’t want to spend the rest of my life having dinner every day in the lab.'”

PARENTAL CONTROL: Though they have now come to terms with her career choice, at first Chatterjee’s folks weren’t so keen on her theatrical ambitions. “They were quite upset. Indian parents always think that theater and music should be a hobby and science should be a profession, and so my father very typically thought that if you have any gray matter why should you even think of becoming an actor,” explains Chatterjee, whose upcoming projects include “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain” with Martin Sheen. “So I tried to explain to them that no, very, very sane and intelligent people also become actors.”


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