Why do you think members of the LGBTQIA+ community are still working towards gaining admission in the 21st century? Shouldn’t this problem already be solved?
It starts with accepting people in general in our society. People still do not accept people’s sexuality as they are. There are social norms and structures we used to live under. When I did Badhaai Do, I understood a lot about her. For me, this is normal because I have friends from the LGBTQIA+ community. Who you choose to love is a personal choice. This cannot define who you are. There is a lot of differentiation based on someone’s sexuality and herein lies the problem. Any form of art depicts society as it is. We need more people standing up for the cause. We should celebrate more people from the community and create a world that is equal in all ways.
What is the movie industry’s mindset about making stories about LGBTQIA+?
Change has begun. The commercial aspect of it is that the filmmakers believe that the audience will not feel comfortable watching these stories. But you will only get to know the audience when enough of these stories are told. These stories were recently told by Badhai Du, Chandigarh Kari Ashiki, Modern Love Mumbai. So, from Dipa Mehta fire to Badhai Du, we have come a long way. love is love. The more we normalize it, the more people will accept it. People need to realize that it may not be your reality but someone else’s reality and you have to respect that.
The frequency of such stories may not be much but I’m optimistic because I was part of a strange story. You have same-sex love stories that are generally accepted, appreciated, and viewed by people. The change has to happen not only in the Indian mentality but also in the global mentality. In the West, there is some normality because they have had these narratives for so long. This process is just beginning in India.
Do you feel that there are still many people, even from an inclusive industry like media, who are afraid to come out of the closet?
This is the sad truth. They are subjected to humiliation, discrimination and ridicule. People use the most condescending words about you. It is a lonely and difficult journey. It takes a lot of courage. I hope people from the LGBTQIA+ community see the stories that are being created and notice that there is representation and that some people from the community have become famous and made a name and a place for themselves. Cinema is a powerful tool and as a community, our mission is to create a safe environment for everyone.
What kind of challenges does one face while making films about society?
When you do a movie about a marginalized community, it involves a great deal of responsibility. A lot of research is done in making a movie. You have to make sure that there are a lot of people from the community who are part of building that story. Because you can’t have a third person perspective on what a gay person’s life is like. This is the hero of Badhaai Do. We had a lawyer from the LGBTQIA+ community. He sat with us on the script. Our director and writers researched for two years. We had friends and family members who belonged to the community. So, there was a lot of talk. We wanted to do this in the most sensitive way possible. Ultimately, these are the personalities we create and someone’s experiences may be different from theirs. So, you just have to make sure that no one gets infected. You do your best to provide as fair representation as possible. I feel so proud and happy that we made this movie. The filmmakers were not made to make a statement. They tried to normalize it as much as possible. Through the travels of these characters, they tried to normalize love outside traditional norms.
What kind of reactions and reactions did you get after Badhaai Do was released?
It was overwhelming. We got a lot of love from the community. I remember going to the theater and there were people, four of my friends came and hugged us and thanked us, saying that this was the first time they had seen their story on the big screen. Our social media accounts were full of messages. So far, we have been tagged in many posts. The movie really celebrates it. We were just reviewing the lives of two people. We didn’t make it exciting. We weren’t trying to make noise for people to notice. We were not brave. We were just telling a story. I feel lucky to have been a part of the story. I think it definitely started a conversation.
Any memorable interactions or experiences that you can share?
I was shooting in Lucknow. It was the weekend that Badhaai Do was released. I went to see the movie in the theater with my whole crew. There was a woman who came and hugged me and said, “I kissed my gay son. But this is the first time I realized how hard it was for him.”
One video clip went viral when the movie was released. There was this boy watching the movie in the theater and there was another group making fun of the characters and this boy got up and said I’m gay, what are you going to do about it? This is the kind of reaction the movie received.
When do you think the attitude around acceptance and full inclusion will change? Do you think cinema can play a big role in bringing about this change?
definitely. This is only the beginning. It is a very long way. I have been a part of cinema that made a big change like Toilet: Ek Prem Katha. I hope it happens with more weird stories. Cinema is a great platform for sharing knowledge. People need to understand that a person is born this way, and the way they feel about someone cannot be changed. Why should anyone live a life without love? Loving someone begins with loving yourself. Normal word needs to be changed.
Earlier in films, homosexuals or obese people were used as comic strips. But then Dum Laga Ke Haisha happened which changed the conversation. In Badhaai Do, we did not use the sexuality of my character or that of Rajkummar for humor. The situations created were fun but there was nothing funny about who we were. The narrative needs to change. A gay man cannot be portrayed as a threat to a straight man in a movie.
You and Dum Laga Ke Haisha co-star Dum Laga Ke Hurrana chose ‘Cinema for Change’. How do you make these choices?
After doing Dum Laga Ke Haisha and Toilet: Ek Prem Katha, I realized how powerful cinema is. What we want to do in the first place is entertain the audience. But through entertainment, we want them to look at life differently. Art, be it film or painting, needs to make progress in society. My upcoming films are also thought-provoking. This is my service to the community. People today want to see what the actors have to say. We have millions of followers. And if we don’t use our power to do something for society, it’s a failure on our part. Although it’s a conscious choice, I don’t make films to prove my point, I choose stories that affect me. Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Badhaai Do or Saand Ki Aankh are movies about celebrating people, which we don’t usually celebrate. I’m glad these movies came my way and I want to keep doing them because I feel like that’s my message.
Hansal Mehta’s Modern Love Mumbai movie about a gay man has not been allowed to air in some Middle Eastern countries. Why do you think these issues persist?
I am not in a position to talk about a specific country. I feel like it’s a general mentality. When we think of our country; Where we are today, we were not there five years ago. Progress is slow but we need to see how to normalize the conversation. Getting out of the closet is easier said than done. The lack of acceptance begins with the family itself.
Our manager Harshvardhan Kulkarni said as we started preparing for Badhaai Do when we had a long discussion about the peak, father telling Rajkummar’s friend to sit next to him. Harshvardhan felt that the closet did not end with the family. Once out in front of the family, the closet becomes larger with only neighbors and relatives. The closet disappears when people don’t look at you differently because of your sexual orientation. This is the point Badhaai Do is making and it was very touching. I don’t want to sound indulgent but it’s a hard ride and I respect their courage.
For example, when Ellen DeGeneres appeared as gay, she was completely ostracized. She was not given any chances. But look at it today. She is married to her partner and happy in love. I am sure it has encouraged many people to lead similar lives.
When it comes to official documents and forms, the category of gender or gender always refers to males and females and then others. Why couldn’t other races be more specific?
At least there is some acceptance that there are genders and genders other than male and female. It took a long time for people to respect that. It’s small, but it’s a step forward. You can’t judge a transgender woman or a transgender woman by what they know. It’s good to see dating apps have options for people to choose what they know as. Cinema and OTT have played a huge role in bringing acceptance in the society. When the shooting was done it was scandalous. At least that’s not happening now. We have come a long way.
What next in your career?
Arjun Kapoor and I wrapped Lady Killer. I finished Bchkshk and Bhid also. Raksha Bandhan and Govinda Aala Rai will be releasing soon as well.