Exclusive: 'You Can't Pull Off Humour At The Cost Of Somebody's Sexual Orientation' — Filmmaker Ram Kamal Mukherjee

Shravan Shah , 20 Jun 2020
Celina Jaitly, Ram Kamal Mukherjee, Shree Ghatak
Celina Jaitly, Ram Kamal Mukherjee, Shree Ghatak

In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India passed an important judgement which paved the way for the LGBTQIA+ community to fight for their rights and freedom. While ‘Love Is Love’ became a motto throughout social media since then, two years later, nothing much seems to have changed. While Bollywood films have slowly and steadily been pushing the envelope, one recent film that stands out is director Ram Kamal Mukherjee‘s short film, Season’s Greetings.

To be honest, the first time I heard the name, I thought it had something to do with celebration. It was only when I saw it that I realised that it was about celebrating human beings and not segregating them based on their sexual orientation. The film, which is a tribute to the late filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh, talks about a number of topics and problems the LGBTQIA+ community faces even today. Even though the SC has passed a clear judgement, it talks about how people are yet to accept the reality.

When I was chatting about the film to Ram, my first obvious question was regarding the title, and he said:

The reason we called this a tribute to Rituparno Ghosh is that Rituparno was known as Ritu and that means ‘season’ in Hindi and even in Bangla. Ritu, throughout his life as a filmmaker, author and an entrepreneur, was a voice of the LGBTQIA+. He used to say we need to accept them the way they are. Unfortunately, he died early. It’s been 7 years, he has not been with us. And I think in 2018 on the 6th of September, the Supreme Court legalised this whole section 377. So, if you see in the film, the characters – Usman and Suchitra, both are reading Times of India dated 5th September. This also comes in a glimpse on the calendar. The lady who walks in Suchitra’s life, does so on the dawn of 6th of September and me as a director felt that we should show it as a new season. And that’s why, in the end, she opens the door and says, “Why are you late? Everyone is waiting for you.” That’s got an inner meaning to it. 

The community is slowly getting portrayed better in Hindi cinema. For the longest time, they were just used for a mere laugh. It’s only with films like Fire, Kapoor And Sons, Sisak, Monsoon Date, Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan and now Season’s Greetings that they finally have a better representation.

Ask Ram why it took so long for a society to accept love in all forms and he adds,

Unfortunately, we followed the British rule and the law. And that law was never changed. I guess that law was there since pre-independence. And you’re right, we could have done it way before. Like, we could have done it sixty or seventy years ago when we got our independence, when the new constitution was formed. This could have been conducted at that point in time. But that’s what our great fathers decided not to kind of change, it a debate for a different kind of time. Right now, what I can say is that I am very happy for the fact that at least directors are seeing this in a different light. But even now, I still feel they are typecast. Its too a gay character or a lesbian character or a transsexual character. Here people still make fun. There are regressive comedy shows we get to see on television where people dress up as a woman and they make fun of them, or they make fun of trans-genders. You can’t pull off humour at the cost of somebody’s sexual orientation. 

When Ram spoke about the shows on television, my immediate concern was about the kids. Kids these days are smart enough to pick up the slightest of hints. And as they say, the kids of today are the future of tomorrow. Ask him about how important is it for the parents today to educate their children right on such topics and Ram had the best explanation.

This is a very good question to which I can answer simply. If you see, there was a child artist in the film wearing a ghungroo and dancing, who eventually becomes Chapala, the trans-person. This is played by India’s first transgender actor. Now, while I was shooting this film, there was this boy. Suddenly, my assistant comes and tells me there is this SOS situation because the boy is refusing to do what we are asking him to do — which was to wear kajal, lipstick and ghungroos and dance. They told me that he is briefed to dance and to do this. When I went to meet him, he asked me, ‘Why am I supposed to behave like this?’. Here comes the ‘education’ part of your question. So for me as a director, it was important to make him understand. He’s a seven-year-old boy, how do I make him realise what’s a transgender? So what I told him was that you are a character who has got both your father and mother in you. You have both the fatherly instincts and motherly instincts. Now that you’re wearing the kajal and lipstick, you are playing the motherly instinct. And when you’re not wearing it, you are the father part. So that’s how he agreed to wear everything and play the role. When the film released, my son Rihaan was watching and he asked why the boy is doing this? Thanks to the boy on the sets, I had an answer to my child. That’s how we all have to have an answer. 

While the film has a super important message, it also marks Celina Jaitly’s return to acting. Celina was last seen on-screen in 2012. I was excited to see her in Ram’s directorial. I remember talking to her in a live session and the actress saying that the reason why she had left the industry was because she was tired of being called a ‘mannequin’.

I asked Ram why he thought of choosing her to play the lead and he immediately replied,

Whenever I cast for my film, I tend to cast people I know. The reason is that I know them from a different perspective. If I am casting a person, I know that that person has the ability to pull this off which people won’t notice until you mingle with them and become friends. You need to see their other side. In Celina’s case, even she was very bored of doing the same old ‘bikini girl’ or however you’d like to say. She has been type-casted ’cause that’s how Bollywood is. So nobody wanted to take that risk of ‘yeh woh kar payegi kya?’. I knew she would and she completely submitted herself to it. That is also very important, for an actor to trust the director. I could see the dedication from her since day one. Right from the way the character looks to how the hair is done. She would experiment from Dubai and send it across. Even that one line of Rabindra Sangeet that she lip-syncs in the film, she asked me to voice record and send it to her. She asked me to explain the meaning of the song. If an actress shows this level of interest, it just means that she was never offered such roles. Now when I cast her, everyone was like in Ritupoorna why did I cast Celina Jaitley? To them, I only said, ‘Wait for the film to release, then you’ll have an answer for it’.

I am glad that I got to see a different side of the actress! And I really hope that just like in Ram’s film, the LGBTQIA+ community witnesses a dawn in their lives.

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