Aakriti Kohli and Sandeep Singh, the makers of ‘In The Mood For Love’, talk about their documentary about the everyday reality of LGBT living.
The most surprising thing about your film, for me, was that it’s presented by a government agency, Doordarshan. How did they get into the picture?
It was intriguing for us too. In 2013, the Supreme Court put aside the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict, re-criminalizing homosexuality under Section 377. A large population, thus, became “illegal” because of who they are. We were toying with the idea of “illegality” and the LGBT community, when PSBT (Public Service Broadcasting Trust) made a call for film fellowships. We sent in the proposal and were short-listed in July 2014. Doordarshan, subsequently, disbursed the funds through PSBT. In the last few years, they have funded a few other films on sexuality and gender rights, like Pramada Menon’s And You Thought You Knew Me and Sridhar Rangayan’s Purple Skies — though we are not sure if this has continued post-2014.
Were there any conditions, restrictions?
Our interface was with PSBT and they never interfered editorially, in terms of content. A lot of their input was technical, and related to the length of the film. Barring the use of “abusive” language, they did not have any issue. They are particular about their films carrying a “U” certificate.
It’s interesting that In The Mood For Love is about people and couples (i.e. individual voices), as opposed to representing the community as a collective.
We had been watching a lot of Indian documentary films on the LGBT issue. Some are very important films, focusing on suffering and struggle, but we felt that the idea of love, the imagination of queer love, and the representation of queer relationships was missing. This was the driving force behind the film. We wanted to focus on the human element, the everyday reality of living.
How did you pick the couples/people?
The idea was to look at different couples who perhaps bring different experiences of living together, being in love, living their own lives, their expectations from each other, their work, etc. Sometime during the process of filmmaking, we also realised that we need individuals who may not be in a relationship at the moment but can reflect on their own idea of love, which may differ from how couples look at it. For instance, Gourab considers love as solidarity, while Prodipto mentions that as human beings we cannot be alone, and that need to be with others is perhaps love.
They all seem to be from the Delhi/ metro area.
We began looking for couples through friends and other networks. Due to logistical reasons (we had a limited timeline for shooting), we restricted ourselves to filming in Delhi. Barring Pradipto, everyone in In The Mood For Love is from Delhi.
And that is actually a criticism voiced in the film, when Shabnam Shaikh says, “The LGBT community fighting, at the forefront, belongs to a particular class, speaks a certain language, and has a presence in the media but you will not find any representation of rural India.” Her point is emphasised doubly because it’s made in Hindi.
We were very specifically looking for couples and individuals who are out of the closet, which is why finding stories from smaller towns and cities was not entirely possible. We met a couple from Meerut, but they didn’t want to reveal their identities on screen. Also, the LGBT movement is elitist in a way. It exists in the bigger cities, and it’s populated by educated people. The movements in the smaller towns deal with things at a more grassroots level, like AIDS awareness.
Did you have a structure in mind? Or did you just say “I’m going to talk to these people and see what comes of it”?
We definitely had a structure in mind. During the shoot, we had some open-ended questions that would broadly cover individual stories, stories of their relationships, life and work, their idea of queer love, their role in the LGBT movement and popular representation, and finally, plans for the future. We kept it conversation-based because this way we received very candid responses.
Why a documentary instead of a fictionalised feature that might be seen by more viewers?
This is a theme that can work well in both formats. As documentary filmmakers, creative representation of “reality” was our first choice. The genre of the documentary afforded us a more languid pace. We could juxtapose news reports with voiceovers. We could use live-action footage to make the kind of arguments we wanted to make. Perhaps the research that we’ve done for the documentary can work as the springboard for a screenplay.
Such films are usually screened to audiences already sensitised to (and sensitive about) these issues. Did you do anything to go beyond preaching to the choir?
Yes, that does happen. In The Mood For Love was premiered at the India International Centre, New Delhi, which is as safe as a space can be. That’s why we have made efforts to engage with the students and faculty members of colleges (University of Delhi colleges, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Ashoka University). Audiences with no background/prior knowledge of LGBT politics and issues have found the film revealing in its representation of queer love and relationships. For seasoned audiences, there has been a deeper engagement with the idea of love and the depiction of intimacy. The way the film represented the ‘queer everyday’ was widely appreciated. There were interesting discussions on the LGBT movement in India and the question of inclusivity/exclusivity.
Has Doordarshan decided on a screening date yet?
From what we know, according to the programming schedule, the film is supposed to be broadcast next year.
Finally, why this title, which recalls the famous heterosexual romance by Wong Kar-wai?
We went through a couple of titles, but the idea of “mood” beautifully communicates a state of mind. It is subtle, transient. One reason for this title was to appropriate the title of a very popular hetero-romance film and suggest that queer love is much the same, and quite different at the same time. The second, also to subvert existing notions of love which occupy our minds, to use a very familiar film title to make unfamiliar things (LGBT issues, queer love) more familiar.
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