Sailesh Ghelani recently attended the Kashish International Queer Film Festival 2017 in Mumbai and saw the closing film LOEV that stars actor Shiv Pandit. In a revealing interview, the actor talks to him about how he didn’t approach the character or film as ‘gay’. It was about the motivations and the emotions, all of which he kept real, without any research. Here’s what he had to say:
1. How was your experience at the Kashish Queer International Film Festival where your film LOEV was the closing film?
They were very sweet and welcoming. The closing ceremony was very fun. Very vibrant. I’ve been to about 19 countries with this film. Teamwork shows in the festival. The closing ceremony was very fun and vibrant.
2. In an interview, director Sudhanshu Saria tells of all the doubts and difficulties he had making LOEV and featuring it at festivals. What was the difficult part for you and how did you overcome it?
It’s been an eye opening experience. I never thought this film would get released. Netflix has bought it and made sure it is available in 120 countries in 22 languages. It’s nothing short of a miracle. Films of such a nature get a very sceptical response. They’re very easy to dismiss and susceptible to being shut down. Against all these hurdles we’re sitting with an amazing reception. Nobody spoke about the film during its making. It was a secret. Our country has been living in a bubble for many years. We’re all aware of the LGBT community yet we pretend that they don’t exist and even have a law criminalising the act (Section 377).
The only obstacle we would have faced would be trying to release the film theatrically in India. We didn’t want to go through certification, as we would have been told we couldn’t release it. We didn’t want the publicity surrounding the CBFC. The filmmakers wanted to release the film unclipped. Netflix gave us a wonderful deal. They saw the film in 2016 in March in Austin, Texas (South by Southwest Festival). There’s no baggage attached to the film.
3. The foreign film festivals were apprehensive about showing LOEV since they said it wasn’t really ‘Indian’.
A lot of people have a sense of a country based on what the media shows them. India is doing extremely well yet people think it is full of street kids running around digging their noses. While that is there, that’s not the only thing. A lot of festival curators want to present films from each country depicting the preconceived image they have of the place.
4. How do you prepare for a role like this? Did you watch gay films as part of your research?
I got into understanding what my character was and why he was that way. I feel that I am very limited as an actor and I feel that the more baggage I put on myself it will hamper my performance. I believe I’m a director’s actor. I gauge his reaction. I don’t have that confidence in myself yet. I’m always looking for my director’s approval. Extra knowledge for me is a sin.
I wish we lived in a world where they didn’t say ‘gay’ or ‘straight’. I didn’t think that him being gay was relevant. The character of Jai was troubled, depressed and insecure, at a loss with his identity and battling his demons about coming out. He’s pretending to be straight. These are the points I focused on, not on his sexuality. Being gay is a facet of his personality and so I didn’t have to behave according to the stereotype. I thought it would be highly disrespectful asking a gay friend about how it is to be gay. I did absolutely no research.
5. So what was it that made you say, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna do a gay film and Bollywood stereotyping be damned’?
No one had offered me a film like this before. I was impressed with his script. Sudhanshu’s presentation was amazing and inspired confidence. For me, that’s a huge turn on. I knew no one would offer me a role like this.
6. I read somewhere that Akshay Kumar had taken you under his wing. How is that going?
I had signed a three-film deal with the company and Akshay Kumar. When and if they have another script for me after Boss, they’ll let me know.
7. Actor Armie Hammer said in an interview that he had a ‘hard on’ when he kissed Leonardo Di Caprio in the film J. Edgar. Did anything like that happen to you in your intimate moments in the film?
Jai is coming more from a place of desperation and longing for love. Here’s a man who has not gotten love and is clinging on to love. I empathised with the character. I didn’t have a hard on, but maybe someone else. Whenever my director gets a good take he has a massive hard on. Not in the literal sense, but you never know.
8. You said in an interview that you used to be homophobic, but things are different now, clearly. What brought about that shift in thinking?
I would say maturity and an understanding of having a broader perspective. Indian society is such that you are subconsciously brought up to be homophobic. Signs of being gay are usually discouraged. We’re brought up repressed and homophobic. It’s only when you start growing up and interacting that you realise it’s about live and let live.
9. You’re friends with Gulshan Devaiah who you acted with in Shaitan. Tell us something interesting about him.
Gulshan’s a very competitive sort of guy. I love that about him. The scenes in Shaitan had us all in the same frame. Gulshan is so competitive that he’ll try to make his presence felt even in a crowd. I thought ‘what the fuck is wrong with this guy’. But he has that personality. It makes you want to match up to him at his level if not higher. I respect actors who bring their A-game to the set and he’s a person like that. Even when he wasn’t delivering a line, his presence was very electric. Acting is reacting and so that just helped my performance. If you ask him, he also says, that onscreen he’s like a tiger. This helps you sharpen your own skill set.
10. What’s next for you?
I made some bad decisions over the last few years with films. Now I’m waiting for the right kind of feature that will make a mark.
In the meantime, I’ve done three short films to keep myself busy: one is called Jai Mata Di. Another called Pagal is coming up and there’s one called Meera, which is also up for release.
11. What do you do in your spare time?
I can be very lazy. I co-own a cricket team in the Box Cricket League on Colors, which has male and female TV actors. It’s called the Chandigarh Cubs. That season is starting soon. I’m the team employee doing the administrative work and that keeps me busy.
I also keep cycling around Bandra to keep fit since I’m a big foodie!
Watch the trailer of the film LOEV: