HT Brunch Cover Story: The director and his muses
Director Abhishek Kapoor, 50, is known to most people as simply ‘Gattu’. Where did that come from? “Guts,” he smirks.
‘Guts’ means courage. And certainly it took courage to make movies like Fitoor, Rock On, Kai Po Che and Kedarnath. Films that weren’t quite the usual Bollywood fare for their time, but which worked just as well.
But behind ‘guts’ there is usually a ‘gut feeling’. And there must have been some gut feeling in action when Abhishek stepped out of character in 2017 and agreed to meet Simran Sahni, a woman from Gurgaon—and a complete stranger—who had flown to Mumbai to pitch an idea that eventually led to the making of the filmmaker’s latest venture, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, his gutsiest movie yet.
Two of a kind
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui is a romantic comedy with an unusual twist.
“When I met Simran, I wasn’t taking her very seriously,” says Abhishek about the idea behind the movie, that has earned accolades for both him and its actors. “She narrated a thought to me and then threw in the transgender angle and I was quite taken aback. I didn’t think anybody would be interested in the way that she wanted to tell the story, but the trans angle to it—it really stayed with me. So, I asked her to park the idea with me.”
Simran, 46, is the mother of twin girls Saher and Reyza, 25, both of whom have transitioned in their teens. One an architect and one in marketing, the twins themselves had no idea their mother had met Abhishek.
“I actually went to meet a lot of directors,” Simran says.“Most of them said, ‘No, this is too bold’. ‘This is not Bollywood.’ ‘This is not commercial cinema.’ ‘Humein art cinema nahi banana.’ ‘Humein awards circuit mein nahi jaana.’ But I thought: this is normal, and it’s as normal as you make it.”
What convinced Abhishek to listen to Simran? “You know, we take for granted that our minds and our bodies are in sync. We don’t even think about it,” he reflects. “But what if they weren’t? And what if it was so traumatic, but nobody outside could understand it? And people who go through this journey, go through a sex change and transition, they go through a lot. It’s such an internal struggle.”
The idea Simran had suggested stayed with Abhishek for a couple of years; he made Kedarnath in that time, but couldn’t let go of what Simran had told him.
“I didn’t think even she thought that it would be made,” he says. “But she needs to have her voice heard, you know. Somewhere, I think I didn’t choose the script; it chose me.”
Dominant mainstream media has always had very problematic transgender representation, and for a director to venture into this uncharted territory was challenging. But Abhishek and his team did their research.
“We realised at the very onset that this was a very responsible venture,” Abhishek acknowledges. “We met a lot of trans people. I got my team of writers—Supratik Sen and Tushar Paranjape—and we started on different avenues to set the story. Eventually, we decided on a gym arena, because that’s where guys work out, and it’s all muscle and testosterone. And eventually, transitioning is about pushing your testosterone up or pushing it down, so it was the correct arena.”
One thing has hit him hard, though. “It’s such a lot for someone to go through that much pain,” he says.“And can you imagine, doctors today—I mean I’ve made a film about it, but my hair still stands thinking about it—what doctors are achieving for you? It’s almost God-like.”
Abhishek mentions an ex-colleague who transitioned to a man, and says, “They’re all spiritually evolved individuals, because they’ve been through something. They’ve been through a lot of pain, so when they meet others, they’re compassionate. But at the same time, they’re also strong; it’s not about imposing your strength, it’s about holding on to it. So, they know how to be compassionate, but they will not let you cross that line. That is the best way to run a relationship, for any individual, whether trans or not.”
Open hearts, open minds
The twins, says Abhishek, are his muses. “The two girls are fabulous. They are such New Age, modern individuals. They’re actually beyond just their gender. They’re having such a good time; they’re in their bodies now. They’re very evolved people.”
With a supportive mother, a loving family, a community who’s embraced them, successful careers and big dreams, Saher and Reyza are the epitome of a modern India. Still, like any other journalist, we want to ask the important questions. What about their relationships?
“I was in a relationship, but not anymore,” says Reyza.“It was like any other normal relationship. Nothing to set me apart or him apart; I’ve been in relationships, but now I’m just enjoying my life as a single girl!”
“And I have never been in a relationship, because... I don’t know, men are from Mars and women are from Venus,” exclaims Saher. “I mean, I need a man emotionally evolved enough to get all my drama, and that’s just never happened.”
She follows up with a relatable statement:“Also, I fall for toxic weirdos.”
Since meeting Simran, Saher and Reyza, since meeting multiple trans people and their partners whether LGBTQ or otherwise, Abhishek says his biggest learning from making this movie might be that, “People fall in love with people. I’m married now, but if I was alone and looking for a companion, and a trans person walked into my life, and she was like some of these people I’ve met, would I buy into it? The truth is, honestly, yes I would.”
Has all the research paid off? Does he think that making his movie has started a conversation, or maybe opened doors for more representation, whether on-screen or off?
“It already has, no?” he counters. “I mean I’m here doing a Brunch interview and you’re featuring us; I think we’ve arrived.”
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From HT Brunch, January 16, 2022
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