Before commencing his Bollywood journey 10 years ago, he went on to assist some of the greatest storytellers Hindi cinema has to offer. People even loved him when he shook his leg to Sonam Kapoor’s famous hook step from Prem Ratan Dhan Payo, a couple of years ago. He has been super active on social media and his Instagram handle is a witness to some of the greatest pictures that share his opinion and talks about the LGBTQIA community. From directing India’s first queer silent short film Sisak to now being a filmmaker who is set to make his Bollywood directorial debut with a story of a transgender woman – he has surely come a long way. With a career spanning over a decade, Faraz Arif Ansari has witnessed the good, bad and ugly insights Bollywood has to offer to a gay filmmaker. From talking about the trouble he faced during the making of his short film to now winning 43 awards for it Internationally, Faraz sheds light on the damage Bollywood has done to the community. Read on…
It was a pleasant evening when I met Faraz at a café in Bandra. It had been almost 8 years since I had last met him. He was a choreographer for a school musical and ever since then (thanks to social media), we have managed to stay in touch. A year ago, Sisak was all over my Instagram feed when Faraz launched the trailer for his short film. While he was promoting it intensely, he got his dear friend Sonam Kapoor to present it to the audience. A year has passed and nothing has changed. Now, I see pictures of Faraz posing with his accolades for India’s first queer silent short film and I could feel his joy. From struggling to raise funds to even complete the film, to now being invited by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for a special screening of Sisak, his journey has been a roller coaster ride.
Mention the word Sisak and an emotional Faraz says, “When I wanted to make Sisak, I approached many production houses but nobody wanted to support it. When I wanted to release the trailer I reached out to a lot of celebrities, who are friends, who I’ve worked with and for, and asked them if they wanted to help me, they were sceptical about it. I waited for three months for a gentleman who said he would release the trailer but didn’t. I was frustrated.”
Ask him how Sonam came on-board and he adds, “One day while I was walking outside this gentleman’s office, I saw a bus with Sonam Kapoor’s face on it. I said, ‘Why didn’t I think of Sonam Kapoor?’ I reached out to her and sent her the trailer. Sonam Kapoor is a superstar, openly gave her full support to a gay film from India. Even today, she retweets every tweet with Sisak and she’s out there supporting because she’s a true ally in every sense.”
Faraz thinks that Bollywood celebrities are in influential positions and with even little things they do, they can reach out to many lives. “Sonam knows how to use her privilege. I cannot thank her enough for what she’s done for Sisak because the initial impetus that we got was because of her. Who does this nowadays? I don’t know any A-lister celebrity who’ll do it, but she did it. I salute her for that. If with her help I can change the mindsets of people with a 20 minutes film, imagine making a feature-length film and reaching out to a larger audience.”
Though Sisak has won 43 awards internationally, it hasn’t won a single one in India till date. Ask Faraz to comment on it and he says, “Why I don’t know. But when you speak about homophobia, there it is. Out loud and clear!”
While Bollywood is currently celebrating the change in cinema, Faraz still thinks that the filmmakers who want to narrate stories related to the communities are still not given the opportunities. To add to that is the number game and the race to churn out blockbusters without even paying attention to the content. “My generation of filmmakers who don’t come from film families have realized that we can make a film that is relevant which will make a lot of money as well as which won’t be boring and slow. My cinema is about removing the line which divides us and them. People need to see us as their children and not freaks of nature. When they start looking at queer people as humans, that’s when things will change. The so-called ‘homosexual filmmakers’ in the industry, themselves have brought so much stigma to the society by showcasing the stereotypical gay individual in their own films.”
Gay and effeminate characters have been a part of Hindi cinema ever since its existence. Right from K Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam to Shakun Batra’s Kapoor And Sons, these characters have either been used to evoke a sense of humour or have been used as vamps. Ask Faraz if he agrees with it and he nods saying, “Bollywood has done damage in the past few decades by making stereotypes and treating us as comic reliefs. Initially, cinema was looked at as a symbol of art and prestige, now it is reduced to business and figures. So it is easier to make a mockery out of someone and get an easy laugh. Take a stereotype; put them in that scene phir log hasenge aur paise milenge. They don’t care about the repercussions. I remember I was in school when Salman Khan’s film Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya had released. There was an effeminate character in the film and every time he entered there was a music that played. That had become an instrument of being bullied for everyone who was effeminate at that time. During my school time, I was bullied and I was made to cry because I was different.”
Argue about Kapoor And Sons doing justice to the community and Faraz reveals, “My mom went to watch Kapoor and Sons and when I asked her about the gay character in the film, she said, ‘Who was gay in the film?’ She was surprised to know that Fawad was gay in the film. What was the point then of the whole exercise if your audience hasn’t understood anything? All this effort of trying to be different has gone down the drains. If you are talking about something; you have to say it out and loud. If you are going to be sneaky about it, it is not going to make any difference. Who have you made the film for? For your own circle to watch and applaud?”
With the damage already done, I had to ask if he hates Bollywood and he immediately says, “No matter how much I hate or love Bollywood, it’s a family. You love them, you hate them, you can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. It is a funny paradigm because having been close to the medium, you realize that you will always be an outsider if you don’t have a film family background. Given the fact that you are a person who belongs to a different community, it is difficult. You can be gay but you can’t make a homosexual film in Bollywood.”
After Sisak getting so much love from the audience, Faraz revealed that now that he is working on his first feature film about a transgender woman titled Vultures – he is back to square one. “In our country, homophobia is one thing, transphobia is way bigger which I am realizing now. While doing research for Vultures, I’ve heard people say, ‘unko zarurat kya hain? Tum Ladke paida hue the na, then why do want to become a girl?’ They don’t understand the concept of identity.”
He further argues, “If you see Indian mythology, gods are transforming all the time, seamlessly from one gender into another. So if Gods are doing it, why can’t humans do it? Given how religious Indians are, how difficult is it for them to relate to someone’s transgender identity? I want to thus reopen these conversations without pushing people off the edge, tell them an engaging tale and entertain them at the same time.”
With so many obstacles, Faraz still has managed to find a ray of light in people who aren’t producers but yet believe in his storytelling and thus have turned investors for him. But writing the story for a transgender film wasn’t easy for the 30-year-old filmmaker. He says, “I was very apprehensive after I wrote the film because I needed big A-lister names in the film so that when an A-lister essays a queer character on-screen, the mentality of entire India changes overnight. Thankfully, I have been halfway successful. Out of the four lead characters in my film, I’ve already cast two and two are in talks with who are also big names. If everything goes well, I’m going to shoot my film in January 2019. For the first time, India will be seeing a mainstream film about a transgender without it being ‘arty cinema’. It’s going to be a mainstream, deeply emotional and entertaining family film. Just that, the main protagonist of the film is a transgender woman. I hope the censor board gives a Universal certificate and not an Adult certificate.”
He signed off by adding, “The budget of Vultures is the cost of three shawls that Amitabh Bachchan wore for Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham. I didn’t have my father who told me that I’ll put money in your film or I’ll get you Shah Rukh or Kajol to cast, I had to find my ways and then I got to somewhere. Every time my film wins an award, it’s an answer to them who rejected me. Every day to get up and kick those nepotistic privileged asses is a task, alright! Nepotism is so, so goddamn true. Had I been the son of a celebrity or a producer or some such, I would’ve made 5 films by now. Even if I had no talent I would’ve. But I guess, this journey is more interesting. There is no limit now. I will create my own stories and people will watch. There is no escape from it, you will get hurt and you will get scratched and you will bleed but in the end, you will emerge Brighter, stronger, full of grace and wise beyond your years…”
We really hope he’s able to break these barriers and directors like him bring about a much-required change in Bollywood.