Bollywood’s no stranger to disabled characters, but having disabled actors play those roles is a rarity. This makes upcoming kiddy flick Bubblegum a departure from the norm. The film stars a 16-year-old boy, Sohail Lakhani, who is deaf and mute. His character, not surprisingly, also shares the same impairments.
“From Sanjeev Kumar in Koshish (1972) to Ranbir Kapoor in the upcoming Barfee, normal people have played these roles, so why can’t a boy who is actually deaf and mute?” asks director Sanjivan Lal. He reasons that while accomplished actors are usually bang-on with their expressions when portraying such characters, it’s their body language that isn’t as convincing. “When you just can’t speak or hear 24x7, your body language is bound to be very different,” reasons Lal, whose search for the right actor spanned several cities till one of his assistants found Sohail at a school in Goregaon.
Since Lal knows sign language well, it helped him to build a better rapport with his actor. “We held a 10-day workshop for him, which included a short film on camera technicalities and learning to drive a scooter,” informs the director, adding that since Sohail was a natural actor, he didn’t need much tutoring.
By the end of the workshop, Sohail had met all the other actors and had taught them to communicate via sign language too. “The lead actor of the film, 14-year-old Delzad also hit it off with his on-screen elder brother. They are both single children, so when we put them in the same frame, the chemistry was amazing,” claims Lal.
Bubblegum, which releases at the end of the month, is a coming-of-age story of a boy who grows up at a boarding school, and is taken for granted and neglected by his parents who, instead, focus their attention towards their elder deaf and mute son.