I ’m in a Gul mood today!” announces Vinay Pathak dressed in powder pink shirt and chocolate pants, exaggeratedly dropping slivers of guava into his open mouth. Pathak is horsing around with Gul Panag, his co-star in Straight: Ek Tedi Medi Love Story, which hit the theatres this week.
Straight is the story of a 37-year-old virgin, a restaurateur in London, confused about his sexuality. “His ordeal starts when a man accidentally kisses him and he begins to get wet dreams. He doesn’t want to face the fact that he might be gay. In our society you’re conditioned to think you’re a man when you have a wife and kids, and marriage is an escape route,” says Pathak of his latest release. “Even in Dostana and Fashion, it was our homophobic reaction to homosexuality — picking on the body language of gay people, that generated laughter.”
So are we ready for Straight’s unabashed depiction of sexuality? “There is a growing maturity in the audience, which is exposed to world cinema, television and Internet. There are homophobes in the US too… aur humare yahan Muthalik jaise kunthhit log hain jo apne ko ‘Indian culture’ ke rakshak maante hain,” he says, wriggling his eyebrows, switching to chaste Hindi.
Parvati Balagopalan, director of Straight says, “Everyone knows Vinay has great comic timing, but he also brings a certain engaging vulnerability.” The same quality that no doubt endeared Pathak to most who saw Bheja Fry (BF), the film that catapulted him to popularity two years ago. He has come a long way since.
The success notwithstanding, acting came about serendipitously for the 41-year-old Pathak. His family in Bhojpur, Bihar had sent him to the US for an MBA, hoping it would add to his marriage prospects. But a brush with theatre and Pathak ditched it in favour of performing arts. “During my theatre days there I discovered how homophobic Indians are. I learnt to be accepting.”
Coming back to India, television — a joint goofy act with Ranvir Shorey — and then films followed. Few nondescript roles later, Pathak walked away with accolades for BF, a film that also heralded the coming of small-budget-strong-script films in Bollywood. “Thanks to BF, I was able to do a variety of work.”
Among the new crop, Pathak admires Sriram “maverick” Raghavan, Anurag Kashyap, Raju Hirani, Imtiaz Ali etc. “The best thing about them is that they are not here to get laid. They’re making films they want to. The stories are changing. In the absence of contemporary Hindi literature, some documentation of our time and space is happening through films. It’s a good time to be in Indian cinema.”
Suddenly the serious expression gives way to a philosophical one. “I’m thankful to the profession — it has made me happier, hungrier and more hopeful today.”