The kind of preparation I had to do for Kajarya was disturbing
There are actors… and then there are artists. Kuldeep Ruhil gets candid about how he has taken advantage of being a man in our society, about the love for his craft and the larger gains of being a part of so-called small films like Kajarya.
What was the one thing that made you take up this film?
When I read the script of Kajarya for the first time I felt a certain kind of guilt, for being a man in our society. I felt the script was depicting exactly how we treat women in our society. I am not the kind of man who would look down upon a woman or abuse her. I grew up with six sisters in my village in Haryana. My elder sisters are more like mothers to me. My mother never went to school but from childhood, she always taught me that every woman you come across is a mother, daughter or sister to someone just like yours. You decide how you want to behave with them. My dad always said that if I got into a fight with guys and they bullied me, I must fight back, but if I ever got on the wrong side of women, I needn’t bother coming back home. That was the kind of family I grew up in. I did everything right from washing, cleaning, cooking and the likes.
Having said that, I still had a certain man-thing of taking my mother, sisters and even female friends for granted. It was always like, ‘Why should I do it, they will.’ Even women make us comfortable and offer to do certain things for us which is by design of the society we live in. When I read the script, I realized how many times I have misused or taken advantage of the fact that I am a man. I have had my share of teasing girls and I am even guilty of pushing my girlfriend in anger even today. All these instances came back to me when I read Kajarya and I just had to do it.
The film touches upon a social cause and is also based on facts. How much research did you do on the subject?
Madhureeta, our director read an article about the woman the film is based on and decided to make the film. She was the one who put in two years of research into this. There is a line she read which she later used in the film too which was, ‘Maarnewaali toh main hi thi, par haath kisi aur ke the.’ So there was a lot of briefing from Madhureeta. My research was more of what I had heard before back in my village. I never witnessed anything but I was aware of people drowning girls in milk. So I did my share of reading up on the subject.
How did you approach the role?
Well, I don’t know anyone like Banwari. I haven’t come across a person who is still alive despite all the brutality. It is extremely difficult to understand the psyche of such a sinister person. Madhureeta helped me a lot to get into the mind of this character. But wo kitna corrupt hai, kitna harami hai aur uska ladkiyon ko dekhne ka nazariya kya tha, wo meri pakad mein nahin aa raha tha.
What was the director’s brief?
After six days of rehearsal, Madhureeta thought I wasn’t able to be that letch she wanted me to be. She took me aside and told me that it may seem weird but all I had to do was to look at every woman as if I wanted to rape her. I had to look at women sexually. She thought that was the only way to bring that kameenapan in my eyes. I started doing that everywhere until even my co-actors started feeling awkward when I was around. One day, even my wife yelled at me saying, ‘Don’t look at me like that.’ I had become so corrupt that I was lucky I didn’t get slapped in public. The kind of preparation I had to do for the film was indeed disturbing. I wasn’t normal. I remember I would cook for everyone after the shoot just to disconnect myself from the strain I had gone through all day. That’s the kind of work Madhureeta put into her briefs and I blindly followed what she had said. It worked because people actually started hating me after that.
Every role that you do brings about some changes in you as a person. How did this film change you, if at all?
It definitely made me more sensitive. It made me realize that one can change at any point. However sensitive you are and you may think you treat women equally, women around us also make us comfortable at some level. Sisters have this you-chill-I’ll-do-it kind of attitude, wives tend to do things for you by habit and mothers give us that right from childhood itself. After a point we don’t realize when we start taking this for granted. Doing this film made me more sensitive to this discrimination which exists everywhere, be it cities or villages at different levels.
When you do smaller films like this, it calls for a huge investment in terms of time and the monies are also not too much. But finally the movie is getting its due. What keeps you going?
The basic force behind these films is the fact that these films are saying something, which is relevant. As an actor one wants to be part of a process which brings about a change. In terms of filmmaking too, our director has shot it in a docudrama style, using actors and non-actors from the village. One doesn’t get to do such roles often and these characters are rarely written. When someone is putting their heart and soul into making a film like this, the least one can do as an actor is to be part of the film. Monetary gain may be little and we have no clue what we’ll get out of it. But from an artist’s point of view, one has a lot to achieve since it is an opportunity to explore oneself. Yes, there are chances it won’t see the light of day but by that minuscule chance, if such movies release and people see them, they will make a difference. So it’s hope that keeps us going.
You are an actor, writer and director. How do you differentiate between these roles?
I can write and direct but I would never act in a film that I have written or plan to direct. Even when I am not acting, the actor in me helps the writer in me to understand my characters better. The feedback I have got for all the films that I have written is that every character is important in the film. That is because the actor in me is always playing those characters even as I write.
What is your goal as an actor?
People don’t believe me when I say this but it is true. When I finish a role and walk out on the streets, people shouldn’t recognize me. I would like to play that many distinct roles and make people wonder who the actor behind it is. This way my freedom remains intact so does the actor and we both grow together.