Man, woman & another man

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  • Published 18.12.10

Your telefilm Ushno-tar Jonyo on same-sex relationships won critical acclaim. Why did you then want to revisit the issue in Aarekti Premer Galpo?

While making Ushno-tar Jonyo, I had long sessions with Chapal Bhaduri (the cross-dressing jatra veteran). He had done a role in Ushno-tar Jonyo though not as Chapal Bhaduri. I felt a lot was left to be said. This man, who was a jatra star in his time, could be the subject of a film... his personal journey, the trauma of feeling like a woman while being a man in reality. As the cross-dressing Chapal Rani, he used to earn Rs 60,000 a year in the mid-60s! Now he is 74 and he has a tough time making ends meet. Ushno-tar Jonyo was made keeping a lot of things in mind but Aarekti Premer Galpo is ruthless.

How does a relationship between a gay filmmaker, Roop, and his bisexual cameraman partner, Basu, become just another love story in your film?

The interesting thing about this film is that all the characters know everything. The wife knows that her husband (Basu, played by Indraneil Sengupta) is in a relationship with a man (Roop, played by Rituparno Ghosh) and she has apparently accepted it too. But knowing is not the same as experiencing it. She will not let a man encroach her domestic space. Here, the other man is weaker than the wife. The film tracks the transition from one point to another.

There’s a parallel track on Chapalda where he relates his personal agony which he had handled in his own way. Times were different then. Roop also goes through the same set of problems but his attitude to it is different. Chapal was embarrassed; Roop is confident. Here the tragedy is that Roop can change his destiny but not his agony. It’s a very tricky situation for Basu, who has a wife, and he can’t solve this problem. The most courageous thing Basu has ever done is accept his relationship with Roop. But Roop doesn’t have any other option and he is very sacrificing. He loves Basu so much that he will do everything to make sure that Basu’s life is not disturbed. So, it is like any other love story. The two people involved in this relationship go through the same graph of joy and happiness, distress and agony like anyone else in love goes through.

Why did you want Rituparno to play the gay filmmaker?

There’s a certain style about the way Rituda walks and talks. We call it meyeli. If an actor tried to do it, it would have been like mimicry. At least I didn’t know of any actor who could pull it off. Even Chapalda has a distinct style of talking. It would have been very difficult for an actor to emulate that body language. Besides, the kind of comfort level Roop shares with Basu would also have been difficult to recreate.

In my film, the heroine is a man and that’s Rituparno Ghosh... because Basu had perhaps found in Roop the kind of woman he prefers. The most important female character in the film is Churni’s (Ganguly); she plays Basu’s wife. When I made the film I saw Rituda as my film’s heroine though I had the third sex issue on my mind. Rituda’s physical presence is very soft and I didn’t have any problems thinking of him as my heroine.

Do you think he resembles Roop in any way?

I find some behavioural similarities between Roop and Rituda. Both are independent, self-willed and self-sacrificing individuals. Both have strong aesthetics and are very well-read.... I think agreeing to do this role has liberated Rituda. He started talking about himself, about third sex, after that. The journey has started.

What was the most difficult part of making Aarekti Premer Galpo?

The toughest part was that I was working with a veteran filmmaker who had his own style of working. My intention was to learn from him, to learn about his method of working. Rituda is obsessed with cinema and coping with his level of involvement was very, very difficult. There was a time when he knew the script better than me! You know, from the moment he wakes up till the time he goes to sleep, he lives in and with cinema. But I don’t operate like that. I switch off the moment I get home. I am a family man then. Matching these two styles was an interesting process.

Chapal Bhaduri

How did you and Rituparno work out the director-actor equation?

You can’t bind Rituda within a composition. I usually tell my actors from which way to enter, what to do and how to leave. Rituda is not used to do this. He wants his space, he wants to move in his own way. So, I would tell him what I needed in a particular shot and what I wanted him to do. He would then survey the spot and tell me what he would do and how. And only then would he go to do his make-up. You know his directorial mind is at work even when he is acting. Rituda is satisfied with his work in this movie.

When I went to him to narrate the script, I didn’t think he would act. I casually asked him if he would and he said yes a couple of minutes later. He had liked my film Jackpot... he had told me not to get stuck in these kinds of films and to try other subjects instead. So, I think he had respect for the filmmaker in me. That is why he was ready to surrender. I believe he ran the maximum risk in taking up this movie. This was to be his acting debut and he is such a celebrated name. His reputation was at stake. So, we requested him to be the production designer for this film. The production values of a Rituparno Ghosh film are tremendous and I am so glad my film could be enriched with that. And the way he has groomed himself to get under the skin of the character is something very few actors do. I felt Rituda was an activist in the film. He wanted to make a statement with this film.

Many actors were offered the role of Basu. How did Indraneil finally come on board?

Many important actors turned it down for various reasons, though we all know why. Basu is a strange character. A bisexual occupies a very difficult space in society. Though we have it in our tradition — the concept of ardhanariswar is there in the Ramayana — it is still a very difficult situation. It definitely needed a lot of courage to take on a role like this. It is Indraneil’s best work till now.... Indraneil has that probashi Bangali feel to him. He grew a beard for this film and it really suited him. He does look like a cameraman.

Do you think Aarekti Premer Galpo will change how some people look at homosexuality?

I think it will touch a chord in everyone. Because it really is just another love story. Aarekti Premer Galpo is significant because this would be the first film on homosexuality to release after Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was repealed, and I think a lot of gay people will be inspired to come out and talk about themselves. Of all the people who will come to see this film, about 90-95 per cent will be homophobic. Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore this film.