I think a ban on a film is ridiculous
Be it theatre, television or films, Preeti Gupta juggles several mediums with aplomb. The actress plays a lesbian in her latest film Unfreedom that was banned in India due to it’s bold content. In a chat with Pandolin, Preeti shares the experience of preparing for this challenging role and why she feels that bans are ridiculous.
Your tryst with acting began with Television & Ads. How and when did the transition to films happen?
Its not really a transition, I recently finished a TV show called Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh. I’m still open to doing ads or television shows. I’ve done another indie film called Mere Haule Dost in Hyderabad.
Unfreedom happened while I was still studying at the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute (New York). They were doing very extensive auditions over six countries and were desperately looking for an Indian girl. So my journey with films kind of happened with this film.
You’ve studied method acting in New York. What were the skills that you learnt during your course & how have they added to your growth as an actor?
Everything that I learnt there has helped tremendously. I’m not the same person anymore. In our country, training as an actor in not considered very important. People focus more on weight training rather than acting training. Acting is a craft like any other craft and needs to be learnt & practiced. The learning has really made all the difference and I wouldn’t have been able to do the same job without it.
As an actor is there a difference in the way you approach acting in films versus acting on television?
The medium changes and so do the kind of resources you have. In television, the time is very limited, you probably get the script the same day and the character goes through a lot of changes as the show progresses, which is the demand of the medium. In films it’s different; you have a script in advance and you know what you are creating finitely. In theater the time you get to create something is different. While the film camera gives you a sense of freedom, in theater, performing in front of a live audience gives you a different sense of freedom. It really depends on the medium. But I like to believe that my input is honest to each of the mediums.
Be it Unfreedom or Mere Haule Dost, what is it that draws you towards such unconventional ventures?
It’s the stories definitely. They are different, things that I want to be associated with and hence I chose to be a part of them.
Coming to Unfreedom, what was Director Raj Amit Kumar’s brief regarding your character?
Raj gave me the script and I then was free to make Leela what I wanted her to be. He would contain her whenever she needed to be but overall I had the freedom to portray the character the way I wanted.
It is said that you took a bold step by being part of a film that revolves around homosexuality. As an actor do you feel that such challenging roles are necessary? Also were you apprehensive about this role?
I was apprehensive about it. I feel that this (the entire controversy around the film) is a very myopic view and we have such a view only in India. If this film was to release in Germany or France, the fact that it has a lovemaking scene wouldn’t be a big deal at all. What the film is about, the acting and the emotional content would be given more importance. I really feel that a lot of judgment comes from the concepts of the country. When people watch a Hollywood film or show they don’t react in this manner, they accept sex and violence simply because it’s Hollywood. But when they see an Indian actor enacting something similar, I feel that somewhere the prejudice and judgment comes in. I really think that this role does require courage and it was challenging to shoot.
How did you go about creating the right chemistry with your on-screen partner? What kind of preparation did you do for this role?
We did a lot of work on that. We did workshops for about two months. I was in New York for a month and trained specifically for the role with my teacher Geoffrey Horne. We were working with a lot of references and saw films like Brokeback Mountain where two straight actors played a gay couple and they did it so well. When I came back here, I also did workshops with Adil Hussain and Dilip Shankar (fellow actors) for almost a month before we went on floors. We did a lot of research and background work for this film.
Were there any moments that were challenging to shoot?
The film has a sequence about corrective rape and shooting it was extremely difficult. It was also very challenging because while we were filming this sequence in Delhi, the Nirbhaya case happened, almost on the same timeline. And that really disturbed me. But it also gave me a lot of courage to say that such things happen and so a film like this needs to be made. We need to show the violence for what it is and we cannot shy away from it.
The film has an admirable cast including names like Victor Banerjee and Adil Hussain. How was the experience of working with such veterans?
It was a phenomenal experience. I know Victor Dada but unfortunately we didn’t have any scenes together as he is a part of the other story. But Adil plays my father and it’s been a complete privilege to work with an actor like him. He is somebody I’ve always looked up to, so getting the opportunity to share screen space with him was amazing, it was a big learning experience.
There is an increased awareness about homosexuality in our country. However a film like Unfreedom was banned due to its bold scenes. Your reaction?
As an actor and more so as a human being I find bans quite ridiculous. I wonder that don’t we trust people to make up their mind? I won’t watch something if I don’t want to. What is the point of banning something, are we not trusting the population of a country that has elected the government of the nation? Why can’t they make the simple decision of choosing what they want to watch or eat etc. I think a ban on a film is ridiculous. It’s not like we are promoting anything wrong through the film.
What message would you like to give actors who wish to try offbeat content but are bogged down due to pressure?
I would like to say please be true to yourself and challenge yourself as an artist. Do roles that make sense to you. I feel the media has been kind to me till now, whomever I have personally interacted with have been supportive and kind. Many times I think that our fear is simply in our head. We think that people will react in a particular way so we don’t even attempt something. But it’s not necessary that people react in that way, they could surprise us with their response. But most importantly, as actors or artists we should definitely go for what we want to do.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
I’ve directed and am acting in a play called Owl and The Pussycat. I’m in the middle of doing shows for it. It’s a comedy, a love story, a very ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ kind of a funny story set up in Bombay. We opened the play in May and are now planning more shows.