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I DON’T WANT TO BECOME A WOMAN

Your cross-dressing has always raised eyebrows. Will Aarekti Premer Galpo give people more reason to talk about the ambiguity of your sexuality?

There’s always been a lot of speculation about me on approaching femininity… whether I am going in for a sex change or a breast augmentation. All kinds of speculation. But I was never embarrassed. If I want to change my identity by changing my sex, I would be the first person to let the world know about my new identity. I consider myself privileged because of my gender fluidity, the fact that I am in between.

I don’t consider myself a woman and I don’t want to become a woman. I can wear kurta pyjama and direct a film; I can also wear kajal and jewellery and attend a social do.... The concept of unisex has been monopolised by women. Women can wear men’s clothes. The problem arises when men wear women’s clothes. Whatever I wear has always been worn by men. Wearing things like earrings and necklaces has always been a part of our sartorial history and tradition. These were tagged as feminine frills during colonial rule and I don’t see anything wrong in reinstating it. My point is why shouldn’t I celebrate my sexuality?

Is Aarekti Premer Galpo going to be the Brokeback Mountain of Indian cinema?

No, Aarekti Premer Galpo is not Brokeback Mountain. Brokeback Mountain was made with an American sensibility in mind though it had a universal story. It had a mainstream approach to homosexuality, with two big Hollywood stars (Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger) in the lead. Aarekti Premer Galpo does not have that mainstream flamboyance. It is quiet and it has a reflection of parallel cinema. It is also not just about two individuals.

Aarekti Premer Galpo is set in a very specific cultural context — the tradition of performing femininity. Chapal Bhaduri is a central character here and the film wouldn’t stand without that. The other important difference is that in Brokeback, the female was substituted by the male. As if the relationship between Jack and Ennis happens because they are alone. The lack of female companionship brings the two men closer. But Aarekti Premer Galpo is not a story of substitution. It is located in society and the two men are being studied through society.

Aarekti Premer Galpo is not a gay film for us because it approaches homosexuality in a very different way. In the film, Kaushik does not introduce homosexuality. From the start, he assumes that it is normal. Roop (Rituparno) and Basu (Indraneil Sengupta) have been in a relationship for a few years. So, their relationship has an emotional journey that is very identifiable.

How would you define Roop’s role in Basu’s life, a bisexual man who has a wife?

Roop wants to free Basu of the role-playing that he needs to do, of the heterosexual machismo. Roop offers Basu a relationship that is outside the purview of domesticity.... I feel strange that people look for domesticity in this kind of a relationship. The parameters of such a relationship are different. The man does not have to play a husband here. The tension of the male-female opposites is absent. Instead, you have a different kind of friendship that is not there in a husband-wife relationship. It is also a very interesting form of erotic or romantic friendship.

In normal cases, you have a marriage-versus-extramarital affair situation. It is an extramarital affair for Basu too but his wife Rani (Churni Ganguly) feels threatened because both she and Basu find Roop special. Next to Roop, the wife feels ordinary. To me it is interesting that cinema or theatre gives you the licence to play a different kind of role and also the scope to escape from a routine-bound existence.

Here that happens at both levels — when Roop is making a film on Chapal Bhaduri and when Chapal is playing a woman on stage. Travelling is part of a theatre group just as an outdoor location is for a film crew. It gives one the scope to bond.

It’s important to find out what one is looking for in a (homosexual) relationship. Is it the need for companionship or a sexual partner? The institution of marriage has proved that companionship is not the ultimate priority. Normative social domesticity rather than human companionship is the priority here. I find it pointless for anybody to run after gender reassignment procedure only to conform to a conventional heterosexual society. Then why will Roop run after an illusory thing and change himself into a woman? This is the basic difference between Chapal and Roop.

So, basically, Chapal and Roop do not share the same sense of sexual identity despite belonging in the in-between gender space...

No. Chapal feels he is trapped in a woman’s body, while Roop feels he is different from either ‘a man’ or ‘a woman’. For Chapal, who once reigned on the stage, it’s loneliness. For Roop, it’s solitude and there’s a uniqueness in this solitude. A generation has passed between Chapal and Roop and the perspective has changed. The two tracks mirror two generations, two cultural milieu — how they are similar and dissimilar...

But for both Chapal and Roop, it’s a journey from femininity to androgyny. Both Chapal and Roop go through the process. Chapal by compulsion; Roop by choice. For Chapal it begins with performing female characters on stage and ends with being a decrepit, old man. Roop starts with being feminine, maybe because he thinks it is one way to attract Basu’s affection. Slowly, he reaches androgyny. He starts feeling comfortable the way he is.

Roop goes through the journey that I have gone through once. That’s why I told you earlier that Roop is 10 years younger than me. There is no obvious display of femininity in me and I am very happy the way I am.

In that sense Aarekti Premer Galpo is autobiographical...

There are two autobiographical elements in the film. First, Roop’s mother is a very strong influence on him and this is very much like the relationship I shared with my mother. In the film, there is a conversation between Roop and his mother though she is not shown.

The second is Roop’s sexual fluidity.... People find me mysterious (laughs). And I find it very amusing that people suspect my sexuality all the time and yet they are so curious to know about my sexual life!

How much credit would you give Indraneil for the Roop-Basu bonding on screen?

It is Indraneil’s best performance till date. He is a very good actor and the film shows his potential. He showed a lot of courage by taking up the role of Basu. The way Indraneil approached his role I felt I was dealing with a very evolved person who could be a genuine friend. He did become a friend and the honesty of the bonding between Indraneil and me shows on screen. For me, this is chemistry. Because the whole film rests on the honesty and the lack of honesty in Roop and Basu’s relationship. The lapses in their commitment are glaring because we could establish the commitment in the first place.

Do you think Aarekti Premer Galpo will change the audience’s outlook to homosexuality?

It’s too tall a task for a film. But on behalf of Aarekti Premer Galpo and in response to the Nandan CEO’s official fear of the film’s aesthetic quality, I can say that the audience will go through an emotional journey that will set them thinking anew about homosexuality. Because the film is also about the heart and the mind. What annoys me is that the moment we say homosexuality the first image that comes up is of two bodies in bed. Why don’t we think of, for instance, two men or two women chatting in a coffee shop or watching TV together?

Even people who are homo-empathic look upon homosexuals as hapless victims of circumstances. I think it is an absolutely wrong notion, which leads homosexuals to believe that they are so. I think they are extremely privileged the way they are. The problem lies with how society looks at them; and not with them. Society can’t accept people who are not normative.

RITUPARNO’S FAVOURITE FILMS ON SAME-SEX LOVE:

Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine: “Here, too, there were men doing opera dressed as women.” Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together: “It had very good music and a strange kind of violence.” Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain: “A very poignant film, very important film.” “A few of Pedro Almodovar films, where gender does not matter, especially All About My Mother.”
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