Abhishek Kapoor on Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui: 'I wanted to reach out to the masses so that people can appreciate and understand'

Abhishek Kapoor on Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui: 'I wanted to reach out to the masses so that people can appreciate and understand'

Abhishek Kapoor on Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui: 'I wanted to reach out to the masses so that people can appreciate and understand'

Filmmaker Abhishek Kapoor believes that people are never ready for a change and that one has to jolt them [to show reality] which he has attempted with his recent release Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui "not a regular love story". The film is a love story between a man and a transwoman. It has Ayushmann Khurrana playing a fitness trainer, and Vaani Kapoor, who is a Zumba instructor, plays a trans woman. “People are never going to say…tell us… you have to go in there and wake them up. Society doesn’t like any change. They want things to continue in a certain way,” says Kapoor, sounding ecstatic as his film goes from strength to strength at the box office. “I have got love for my earlier films but this one is very special especially because the film deals with a very delicate and sensitive topic. It is definitely my most important film because it should contribute the most to society. The response has been beyond my expectations. It is very heartening and very encouraging. When you decide to make a film on these [taboo] topics a lot of people say you have lost your mind. 'Are you mad? Who will watch it, how will you make it?' But the hard work, sincerity, and belief has received a lot of love and appreciation,” says the director known for titles such as Rock On, Kai Po Che, Fitoor, and Kedarnath.

It was in 2017 that Simran Sahni who works with Kapoor’s writing team pitched the idea to him that triggered him instantly.  “After I finished Kedarnath the idea was still in my head and me along with my team of writers -- Supratik Sen and Tushar Paranjpe --  set out to start writing it. We did a lot of research, we dived deep into the Trans community, we met a lot of Trans people and tried to understand their journey. The important thing for me is not just to make a film but to make an impact. There have been a lot of films on LGBTQ community but most of them have been in the dark space, they talk about their anguish. It is very heartfelt but it doesn’t make a difference in the real world because if you have to bring conversation for acceptance, you have to reach out to the masses and to do that you have to speak to them in their language. Hence we have this mainstream look with also some music and celebration. I thought this was the right way to initiate conversation so that people can appreciate and understand what we are saying,” says the director.

After understanding the world of Trans people, Kapoor says he wanted to represent the community in the way he had seen them. “We have to see from what it is and not from what you think it should have been because you have seen it so many times before,” says the director, who wanted Vaani to play a dignified woman and not a victim. “We were thinking of various different ways of treating the film but eventually we felt this was the best way to tell the story because the kind of people I met among the trans community I found very dignified, very evolved and I wanted Vaani to play that. This is a new presentation and this is how I have seen the community and this is how I wanted to represent it. I was very clear about who 'Maanvi' is. I didn’t want her to play victim, I wanted her to be empowered,” says Kapoor.

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He continues, “Those people who have gone through the transition have such a high level of spirituality and they are such evolved souls because they have been through so much. It is not easy for someone to transition. After psychological counseling for a year or more, the doctors decide if a person is ready for change. The surgery is complicated, it takes a toll on your body.  Many who have made the transition are proud of how beautiful they are today and how their mind and body are in sync. Yet, they are hurt when society does not accept them. They fight it back, they sound angry but they are the most generous and evolved souls.”

Casting the female lead was not easy, says Kapoor. Before a mainstream heroine was finalized, the team had thought of casting a trans person because Kapoor didn’t know “who would have the guts to take on”. “So I didn’t approach any other actress. I was a bit reluctant to share the idea with Vaani but eventually I did. I felt maybe she will take a plunge because she is at that stage when a film like that could make a difference. I just tried my luck and as luck would have it she just fell in love with the script. She was enthusiastic after reading the script. The moment she put trust in me I didn’t want to let it falter because so much is at stake. You are talking about the trans community, you don’t want them to be misrepresented, you have a leading actress who is taking a plunge in the arena where nobody would go, you don’t want her to be disappointed, you want the audience to understand you…there were so many factors and you are walking a very thin line. If you show more comedy it would look as if we are making fun of the trans community and if we go the serious route then it would be called arty,” says Kapoor. “And Ayushmann is a champion of films that has tackled several societal taboos. He was the right vehicle to carry the story but what was demanding was his bodybuilding. But I am happy that I could contribute to something new and position him differently in the film that he has never done before,” he added.

Kapoor has not only dealt with sensitive material before but each of his works belongs to a different world, no two of his films are comparable. “It is probably a subconscious call. I dislike repeating myself. When I make a movie I put everything into it and when I am done I feel I have closed the chapter. It gives me an opportunity as a filmmaker to go into a different world and there lies the process of a lot of unlearning. You know how to make a movie, it may be ingrained in my system, I know the process but how to tell a story what to say requires a very virginal approach,” says Kapoor, who is currently working on scripts for both OTT and big screen.

“But things are still very unclear, very uncertain. People still fear going to theatres. We have to wait and watch, we have to be sensitive to whether it is discrimination in society, whether it has to do with your business, your children…it is a very good time to mentally do some retrospection and some introspection so that we can prepare ourselves for a great time ahead. But as a society and community at large, we are not heading in the right direction by this environment or this inclusivity and there are so many areas that we need to relook. We should take this Covid experience and learn from it that nothing is for certain. It is a good time for people to recalibrate their minds and just see where we are as a society at large and what are the rectifications we need to do as we move ahead. Chandigarh…couldn’t have come at a better time because people out there have open minds today,” says Kapoor signing off.

Seema Sinha is a Mumbai-based mainstream entertainment journalist who has been covering Bollywood and television industry for over two decades. Her forte is candid tell-all interviews, news reporting and newsbreaks, investigative journalism and more. She believes in dismissing what is gossipy, casual, frivolous and fluff.

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