Tabrez Noorani (ISC ’91), who has worked on movies such as Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, speaks about his journey from home videos to the Oscar stage
During last year’s Oscars, Golden Globes, Screen Actors’ Guild and various other award events in Hollywood, Tabrez Noorani was faced with an enviable choice — should he sit at the Zero Dark Thirty table, the Life of Pi table or should he join the cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?
This was one of the easier decisions for Tabrez, whose profession as a film-maker and line producer demands that he make big and snap decisions on a daily basis. His work as line producer on Slumdog Millionaire saw him take the stage along with the film-making team at the Oscars, a sight that delighted his Cathedral friends. His credit can be seen on numerous other films, including Bhopal Express, Alexander and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.
Based in LA, Tabrez often returns to India, not just for shoots but also to visit friends and family in Mumbai. Earlier this year, his company, India Take One Productions, handled the shoot of the Hollywood film Million Dollar Arm in India. One of the challenges during that project was reassuring 81-year-old actor Alan Arkin that he would be provided with hygienic food and water.
“He refused to shoot in Mumbai, and for the Lucknow shoot, we had to find him a special personal chef and assure him and his team of water, food, etc. I reassured him using the blueprint of what we did for Julia Roberts and her family during the filming of Eat Pray Love. Just to put that separate kitchen together for Arkin took six weeks,” says Tabrez.
Tabrez’s interest in film-making began when he was just 14, assisting his uncle Zafar Hai on shoots. Tabrez often took a video camera to school. “I would shoot videos while the class was on. Mrs. Isaacs caught me many times,” he recalls. This early inclination meant a natural progression to Loyola Marymount
Tabrez with Ang Lee at the Life of Pi shoot University School of Film and Television, LA. His first student film, Disturbance, won an award at the Venice Film Festival in 1993. His early work experience was with celebrated directors such as David Lynch and Wim Wenders.
Of all the cities he has shot in, he finds Mumbai the most difficult. “You need a shooting pass, union permissions, etc. It’s more expensive to shoot on the streets of Mumbai than on those in LA.” However, he loves Indian locations, especially in the South. One of his most rewarding experiences was working on Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, shot largely in Puducherry. “That was an amazing experience over almost five months. I was the first person in and the last person out. The first thing Ang said to me was ‘tell me what’s real and what’s not real about India’. He wanted authenticity. I thought that was great.”
He describes Slumdog Millionaire as “special and hard. I was really pushed by Danny (Boyle) on that,” he says. After a hectic, intense shoot has “wrapped” and the last person has left, and when he is the only one left, that’s when Tabrez has “a sense of accomplishment”.
Alongside line production (and there is a long list of projects on the anvil) and directing commercials, Tabrez is polishing his film script. “I am obsessed with my first film. It’s about sex trafficking. I have been researching it for years,” he says. Uncle and nephew are also adapting Shrabani Basu’s book Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan to film. Maybe one day those videos of a Cathedral School classroom will also find their way onto the big screen.
– Udita Jhunjhunwala