Our columnist Mahima brings you the candid and bold interview of the two actors Jitin Gulati and Dhruv Singhal, as the second and final part of the two-part interviews with the director and the actors of the silent LGBTQ film, Sisak. The film bagged seven international awards. Read more in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Last week, I brought you the most candid and bold interview of Sisak director Faraz Arif Ansari. Faraz informed us how Sisak’s leading actors had backed out from the film just five days before the actual shoot began. It not only cost him his mental peace, but he also ended up losing a lot of money. Money that was primarily raised by funding from friends, family, etc. and also by selling his car off! Then came in Jitin Gulati and Dhruv Singhal, who decided to take up the taboo subject. And the rest, as Faraz says, is history. Having already won seven international awards, the film has even been screened at Google India’s head office.
Here’s my interaction with the two actors, Jitin and Dhruv.
Mahima: LGBTQ is a taboo subject in Indian society. What gave you the courage to take up the film?
Jitin: I choose my role according to who the director is and what role I have in the film. When Faraz spoke to me about the film, I sensed a very romantic poetry. It is a silent film, a very challenging role. Secondly, the shooting locale was a running Mumbai local. Third and above all it resonates the pain and emotions of the LGBTQ community. Considering all these challenges, I took up this project.
Dhruv: Frankly speaking it was the script and the honesty embedded deep within it. It wasn’t just another LGBTQ story, rather it was a visual poetry. It highlighted the essence of love and how it is gender-less and beyond our control. I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t skeptical about the project before I met Faraz and read the script, but after I read it, I didn’t need any further convincing! Probably the only thing that scared me at the time was the fact that I had never sat in a Mumbai local before in my life, let alone shoot a film in it.
Jitin: If a role suits my choice, I need not inform my family. After all, it is work. Since I was a child, I wanted to be an actor. I grew up on cinema. I wanted a portfolio that is a mix of good entertainment films as well as independent cinema, which talks about the current scenario, real-life struggles, etc. which needs to be brought out as a message to the masses. And that’s what I am doing. My family is aware of it now and they have no negative reaction to it.
Dhruv: They all knew about me auditioning for the part but didn’t know that I would actually get it! My family was on the back foot initially but once I spoke to them at length about it, they trusted me to make the right decision and supported me no matter what. My friends had been very excited about the project since the beginning and were ecstatic to know that I accepted the role. In fact, they helped me look beyond my own narrow-mindedness at the time. The only thing they were scared about was whether I would be able to pull it off or not since I am nothing like my character in real life!
Jitin: My family hasn’t seen the film yet, but I am soon going to take them for a screening. I am sure they will be happy to see their son winning international accolades for a subject that needs to be spoken about widely and not brushed under the carpet.
Dhruv: My family and most of my friends finally got to see the film a few weeks ago at our screening in Delhi. Their reactions were priceless! My mother had teary eyes once the lights turned back on, my father, who is usually a very calm and composed man was sitting in his seat excited for the event to finish so he could hug me tightly and my brother, well, let’s just say he’s my biggest fan! A few of my friends were crying, some just couldn’t believe it was me who they saw in the film and some were just talking about the cinematic beauty of the film since they are filmmakers themselves. All in all, their reactions were better than what I could ever dream of!
Jitin: I quit as a banker to take up acting at a later age in life. Clearly, I had left being those ‘chaar logs’. Sisak is not just about LGBTQ community but about being yourself, live the way you want to live, brave it up, to stay happy. As a 37-year-old I have left those ‘chaar log’ far behind. Nobody knows your journey and struggles except you yourself. With that maturity, I have learned to pursue my dreams, my way.
Dhruv: Some laugh at the fact that it’s a gay film, other say one thing to my face and bitch about it behind my back! So I ended up inviting these “char log” for the screening. And oh boy, they have gone back home with their jaws dragged along the floor!
Jitin: A lot of preparation goes into a film if it has dialogues. But here it was a silent film. So I watched a lot of silent films. I watched the film, In the Mood for Love. I also watched the film, Carol, the love story of two girls. So the preparation for the film was about getting two things right: the atmosphere and the feel of the film. Rest I wanted to keep it organic as we had to shoot in a Mumbai local and be prepared for anything, be it cops or the crowd booing us away. Most of the film has been made by my ‘first take’.
Dhruv: Growing up, I had no gay friends and obviously knew nothing about people from the community. I started off by meditating, researching online, reading episodes from gay people’s lives and learning about their problems along with watching videos. I also watched the films Milk and Brokeback Mountain but still, this wasn’t enough. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to Mumbai where Faraz made me meet his friends from the community who made me appreciate the human being behind their sexuality. They talked about their lives, their problems and everyday struggles, which opened my eyes and that is when I started picking up traits and characteristic to form my character in Sisak. Thinking about it now, even though Faraz gave me a lot of freedom to make up my own character, subconsciously I based a big chunk of the character on Faraz.
Jitin: I was born in Delhi, dad was in Navy. I always wanted to be an actor but became a banker first. My grooming as an actor began after I quit my job to take the final plunge at 29. I have trained under Barry John, Faizal Khan and even Amal Allana, Chairperson of the National School of Drama. I am also a trained dancer by Ashley Lobo. Then, I moved to Mumbai and got my first photos shoot done at the age of 30. My first film wasWarning, a 3D thriller by Anubhv Sinha. Did more few significant films like the recent M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story where I play Dhoni’s brother-in-law. I was also in veteran actor Anil Kapoor’s 24: Season 2 plus I am doing a web series, Inside Edge on Amazon. While I was shooting for this series, I landed the lead role in Sisak, which is my fifth project.
Dhruv: Well there isn’t much of a background, to be honest. Like every kid, I did a little theatre in school. It was in college that I got the opportunity to act in my friend’s films and other short films. In fact, it was because of one of these films that I got picked up for Sisak.
Dhruv: Sisak is the internal agony built up inside a person which is unable to come out as an expression or an emotion. In other words, it’s volcanic activity inside a person, unable to erupt!
Jitin: Faraz was the strongest reason for me to act in Sisak. He has a very strong and fine understanding of human emotions, storytelling and above all aesthetics. I love the fact that Faraz is somebody who doesn’t look for perfection. Some of the takes he has used in the film are where we have made mistakes because life is about imperfections! None of us is a perfect human! I learned a lot from Faraz.
Dhruv: Well anything I can say about Faraz will always fall short of doing justice to the man that he is! He is a genius and above that, he is one of the most amazing human beings I know. He can turn any situation into a fun and has the energy of the Sun stored inside him. Sure of what he wants and how he wants to go about achieving it, Faraz is on a mission with a higher purpose that none of us can ever understand. He is my mentor, friend, confidante, and above all, he is family! He’s going to do wonders, we’ve just got to wait and watch!
Jitin: The only fear perhaps was what if cops catch us! Yes, we did not have enough money to make the film. No prior permissions were affordable; it would have cost five to six lakhs per day. We were shooting in a Mumbai local. What if the cops took a wrong signal and caught us? Funny yet scary thought. The commuters were less since we shooting post 10:30 pm and weren’t objecting to the shoot. But yes, we were worried about the cop angle.
Dhruv: So I had never been in a Mumbai local before we shot the film! It was scary since we were shooting without permissions but it was also the most fun I’ve had shooting a film. We were a tiny team of six people, who were doing the work of a team of 50 people! We changed clothes on the train behind dupattas since we neither had the money nor vanity vans. We ate rolls packed by Faraz’s mother and no complaints from anyone about the lack of resources on set! We came up with code words to inform each other about cops at the platforms and worked as a single unit even though most of us were meeting for the first time ever. It was magical, as though the universe conspired to create this fantastic chemistry between us all.
Dhruv: Yes, I did debut with Sisak. And being a film student who at the time was being shown films by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, I knew this was going to be tough! My flat mates gave me the courage to do this and I don’t think I have ever gotten such sane advice from them before this. They made me realise that this opportunity was too huge to miss and I knew that this could go either very wrong or really teach me something I have been aching to learn for a long time! Honestly, I could either give it my all or not do it at all because there was no middle ground with this project, so I decided to go ahead with option 1.
Jitin: I come from a modelling background. What people are seeing me post-Sisak is under an entirely new light. Not many people have seen the film, but the trailer alone has garnered so much interest and appreciation from the fraternity. Many directors are offering to meet only after seeing the film were to bring out LGBTQ love under silence is the biggest act. From that sense, it has been a very heartwarming response.
Dhruv: Not much really! I mean I did get a few offers from the industry but either the roles were very underwhelming or things just didn’t work out! I know that I haven’t done much work to be offered big roles and neither am I expecting them so soon but I am constantly hoping for another interesting and challenging character to come my way because, at the end of the day, it’s not about fame or money for me, I am only in this to grow as an actor!
Jitin: Such films are really difficult to make. Faraz went through a lot. The film took one year to see the light of the day. It is because doing such an independent film requires money and we had very limited one. Plus, time was lost since the first set of leads backed out. I really appreciate Faraz’s courage who did not shelve the project, took pains to gather the funds somehow through friends, family, crowd funding, etc. I am really very happy that his efforts paid and the film saw the light of the day. His dream came true and I am really proud to be a part of it.
Dhruv: Well, I was still in the 2nd year of my college when we shot the film. I remember it was two days before my semester end exams when Faraz got in touch with me over Facebook. My friend, Ish recommended my name on Faraz’s Facebook post thread searching for an actor and by the end of that day, Faraz texted me. My exams lasted for a week, during which I studied for exams along with preparing my character. Within an hour of my final exam ending, I was sitting on a bus to Mumbai and the next day we started shooting. The hurdles are only in your mind. The moment you shut it off, things change. The rest is history.
Jitin: Not all will appreciate a film. But the trailer itself was welcomed by people and film fraternity. Yes, we have won awards internationally, but not yet a national one. But, I have hopes that once people and industry have seen it, the message will spread across. We are holding more and more screenings to packed houses and in next six months, I am sure the film will do very well.
Dhruv: Well, I can’t say I am surprised about that, but I am still disappointed though! I mean think about it, the film has no dialogues, no obscenity, no offensive marketing, nothing that should hurt anybody’s sentiment. Indians love romantic films so why are they having a hard time accepting this one? Well, it’s because they can’t see beyond their own stigmas and cannot accept the fact that they thought wrongly about something. Sisak is the first of its kind and it has brought about a change in the minds of a lot of people in our country. Hopefully, slowly, we will change this mentality with the films we make in the future.
Jitin: Yes they did, why I don’t understand. Off and on people do question me on social media. But thankfully no trolling has happened, perhaps because it has been done very aesthetically. I think people have taken it in a different manner, no crude message so far.
Dhruv: Well, there is a difference between people speculating and assuming things about my sexual preference! So people speculating about my sexual preference is alright with me because if it was me in their place, I probably would have done the same thing. When people just assume that I am gay and call me names, even after everything the film has achieved, I just smile at them and make it a point to make them really uncomfortable! I have a dark sense of humour when it comes to these things.
Jitin: I have tried my best through Sisak to bring out your struggles, pain, need, and aspirations. I really hope you get what you want. Nothing is more important than living the way you are and thus the way you want to. Happiness and joy are just being yourself. Just tell the world, you can face it.
Dhruv: I feel the greatest quality people from the community have is the ability to keep smiling in the face of any trial or tribulation that comes their way! I think this quality is possessed by people who know that they are pure from within and haven’t done anything wrong. I would just like them to know that they should be proud of who they are and never change themselves because of anybody or any narrow-minded rules.
Jitin: To the lawmakers, it is high time we repeal Article 377, a law made by the British Era who ruled us in the 19th Century. They had their reasons then, but now that the British have grown out of it, it is high time we do the same. We need to use our own sense now. Let people be who they are, accept the reality, give them their rights. To the filmmakers, whatever said and done, a film influences our consciousness and the society. It’s time that more meaningful cinema find its way to people.
Dhruv: To the filmmakers of our country, with all due respect, grow a pair, get out of your comfort zone and do the things cinema was originally known for, experimenting and inspiring! To the lawmakers of India, use your leadership to change the narrow-mindedness of your citizens because it’s about time India grew up and stopped behaving like 2nd graders, pointing fingers and crying on about everything!
Dhruv: Well, I have been dying to work behind the camera for a while, so will be assisting a director on a feature film very soon (sorry, cannot give out names) I will be acting in a couple of projects as well but can’t talk about them till things get finalised.
Jitin: The crew deserves the heartiest thanks. The entire crew has been a huge support. I want to thank the LGBTQ community who has given us such a warm reception in the sense they feel we did justice to a rarely-touched subject and brought out their inhibitions and wants to their rights of a life of acceptance among the masses. And yes, of course, Faraz who had faith in me and took up such a bold step through us all.
Dhruv: I would like to thank my family and friends for trusting me to do the right thing and standing by my decisions no matter what! I am what I am because of each and every one of you! I would also like to thank the entire team of Sisak without whom this film would not be what it is. Lastly, I want to thank Faraz for being an inspiration and for believing in a 20-year-old college student, with no film background to carry his brainchild!
Photos sourced by the author.
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