Filmmaker Faraz Ansari interview on why he has made India’s First Silent LGBTQ Love Story

Why a SILENT LGBTQ love story?
Silence is the most piercing sound. Silence is something that so underutilized in our lives, in the films we watch and the films we make, silence barely exists. However, when Sisak was born, I knew it right from its inception that it has to be a silent film. I had so much to say that words were falling short. Why silent? Well, other than being a political statement about the state of the LGBTQI community in India, there exists a state of immense need to be heard by the community – we take out Pride marches, almost every LGBTQI film is about people’s struggles with their families, with themselves, about coming out, etc. As a filmmaker and a storyteller, I feel we use too many words to convey what we feel. Sometimes, I feel, words are poor comforters. People need to feel what you are feeling and when there are no words to support the visuals, by default, the audience wants to get into the minds of the character, we observe them more closely, we feel more closely and that indirectly, makes the loudest roar that the community needs. We want people to know that “Hey, we are just like you!” and I feel that with Sisak, that has somewhere been achieved. We are all the same.  What binds us all together is our similarities, our likings and that is how we understand each-other. What I am attempting to do with my cinema is to blur the lines that have been created between all of us – why can’t a heterosexual person understand what a homosexual feels? All emotions are universal and that is the only truth. We all feel the same. Yes, growing up as a homosexual, one has bigger demons to fight – the struggles are more absorbing but don’t we all suffer? I feel unity and the sense of binding us all together is how I feel the community will get the acceptance it has been looking for. Dividing ourselves is not the answer. The answer lies in unity. We are you and you are we. Once that barrier of difference is broken, we shall flourish.

How do you plan to market it?
I am hoping the film gets premiered at a celebrated film festival like Cannes, Venice, etc. so that people watch it and just by the content of the film and the social media skills of me and my entire time, we will push it, the was we have been and market it. The film is entirely self produced. I have invested half of my life savings into making this film. For the post-production, we raised monies by doing a crowdfunding campaign because post is so expensive. So now, the marketing will also be self-fueled. And when massive stars like Sonam Kapoor decide to come hold hands with you, life because easier and my film gets all the sunshine it rightly deserves. I also plan to pitch Sisak to Karan Johar and see if he comes on board to present it and take it out for the world to see
Did it take much effort to convince Sonam Kapoor to release the trailer?
Sonam is a sweetheart, other than being a wonderful actor. She was so kind and wonderful that when I got in touch with her team to promote Sisak, in less than a day, I got her approvals. And since then, she has been extremely invested in Sisak. She has really gone out of her way to promote it and make sure that she puts it out there in the best way possible. Given how busy she is, she really did take out a lot of time for Sisak and give it all the attention and love. I will be forever indebted to her for that. Such a big superstar but her heart is in the right place. She is using her stardom and her celebrity status to really push and talk about the most important issues. It takes a great deal of courage to standup for the LGBTQ community and bear the rainbow flag but Sonam has done it effortlessly and so beautifully at that. I think, she’s a bigger fan of Sisak than me!

The LGBTQ community struggles to find its voice…do you think it needs more support and power from those who believe they deserve a voice?
After writing the screenplay for my directorial debut film called ‘Ravivar’ – a socio-political satire that has a homosexual protagonist, I faced rejection from almost every production house in the country. They loved the screenplay, they were thrilled about the project but then they didn’t have the courage to make a mainstream film about homosexuality. It is not easy to be in that place where the industry moguls are telling you – “Hey, we love your screenplay. But we can’t make it because of company policy…” “It’s a fantastic idea! We love it but we don’t think we will be able to produce it at this stage…”   All of this lead a great deal of depression. Its like the whole world has rejected your first child! All that depression led me to write Sisak. So I am thankful for that experience, having said that, it is sad to see some of the pivotal people of the Indian film industry who are homosexuals themselves, who should be giving a platform to the community that struggles so much to find a voice, a standing in this so called democratic world, shy away from it. The budget of a big budget film’s song is the entire budget of Ravivar and everyone who has read or heard the narration of it has loved it. Why will a big production house not back it then when they know it was truly bring in the change. Ravivar will be the Taare Zameen Par of LGBTQ cinema without being an LGBTQ film for it talks to the masses about the most simple thing… acceptance & love – and that too while making them laugh! I truly hope someone who is in power supports it. I want Ranbir Kapoor to play the lead in Ravivar. 

How difficult was it for you to make this film?
I think while I was writing Sisak, I was aware what a massive challenge it was going to be at each and every level! I remember after I wrote it, I shared it with Saurabh Goswami, my DoP and Akshara Prabhakar, my editor. Both called me up a few minutes after the other and told me how they were bowled over by the screenplay but their concern was “How will you shoot this?!” Saurabh was worried about shooting it guerilla style without any railway or police permissions and Akshara was worried that given the scenario and style of shooting, if I would be able to extract the performances that I wanted and the intensity that I had written on paper. Obviously, I had a plan in my mind. I believe, every filmmaker, while writing, thinks about execution too, by default. After many meetings of through pre-production where I did the storyboarding, the workshops with the actors and my crew, we worked out each and every detail that we could and on the day of the shoot, we just went and shot the film without any permissions. My mom use to pack sandwiches for us and we all had backpacks full of water because we were doing the graveyard shift. We started shooting at 9pm in the 1st class compartment of the Mumbai local trains and went on shooting till the last local stopped! Sometimes, if we didn’t get enough shots, we took the local train again, as soon as it started which is 4am and shot till just because the sun was out. We were all literally living out of backpacks and train compartments. Since we didn’t have a vanity van or even a changing room, we use to form a human wall in the trains and my actors would quickly change behind it. It was madness! I have put in more than half of my life savings in the making of this film. Its been an uphill climb without any support from anyone, really. But in the end, looking at the fabulous reactions, I guess it was all worth it! We were like a massive cosmos, working in unison, in rhythm with each other. It was like Mozart’s symphony – effortless, intense and extremely beautiful.

Did you have a hard time convincing the two actors to be  part of the film?
The casting process of Sisak was the most taxing process. Most actors are so use to have a script with dialogues when they come for auditions that somewhere, that has caused a lot of damage, I feel. When I was casting for Sisak, in the auditions, all the actors had to do was sit and read a book and at some point, look at someone who is staring at them and that’s about it. After auditioning more than 300 actors and not finding anyone who was even close to how I wanted the portrayal to be in Sisak, I was rethinking if I should make this film or not, until I auditioned Jitin Gulatin and Dhruv Singhal. But before them, there were two fairly known actors who had agreed to act in the film but then just 3 days before the shooting, they back out. They said, they couldn’t play a homosexual because they wanted to play the lead roles in big Bollywood films. So, with a broken heart, we moved on. Jitin & Dhruv came to audition without any preconceived notions or baggage. They surrendered to my brief and I was extremely surprised to see how true to real life their portrayals were. The kind of cinema that I believe in – slice-of-life, was so effortlessly crafted by them that I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously, we did a lot of workshops in the trains, sessions with other homosexual men talking to these two about their own experiences and journeys, etc. After that, we just went and shot the film in five hours, spread over two nights. I guess, the workshop and the discussions and interactions with the homosexual community brought in a lot of gravity to their performances. In fact, working with these two was the easiest. Some times, they gave one take and that take was so great that most of the film is made out of the first takes that we shot!

Your own opinion on the way the gay are portrayed in Indian films?
The portrayal of homosexuals in Bollywood has been very unkind and stupidly stereotypical. I am just because the filmmakers who write these horrible characters haven’t met a lot of people from the gay community or don’t have enough knowledge or their research is limited to their intern’s research who is as clueless as the rest is where the problem lies. The LGBTQ community is extremely vast and filled with such wonderful people that one has to look closesly to understand them. What is more sickening is that, homosexual filmmakers have themselves gone ahead and stereotyped the portrayal even further by making them wife snatchers, effeminate queens or men who dress in drag and talk like women and that is reduced as the only knowledge and portrayal of the community in cinema which is so sad. And this only comes from a lack of knowledge, perhaps fear and self loathing because some of them are closeted homosexuals. In Sisak, you see two men falling in love but somewhere, you forget that they are two men. You see them as two individuals, two souls looking for love. I think that is the power of cinema – to change mindsets and break stereotypes and give a strong voice. What is the point of cinema, otherwise? Entertainment, yes but also changing lives. About time, we realize that, given the world we live in today. 
Homosexuality is still illegal in India. Does a film like Sisak hope to give the community a legitimacy beyond the constitution?
What is this whole battle for Section 377 about? The answer is one word. Love. To have the freewill to love whomever we want to, without any bondages, any restrictions. And that is what Sisak talks about… to love, without restrictions, without fear. I wanted to tell a tale of love… without words… without any physical intimacy… just pure love, where two individuals fall in love with each other… and we see them fall in love, night after night as they find ways to find a step closer, this whole cosmic dance that happens between these two individuals is what Sisak is about. Just that, these two individuals happen to be men.Recently, at the Mumbai Pride March, where I was with my cast & crew promoting my film, I was called on the mainstage and I was told that a silent film like Sisak has become the voice of the LGBTQ community. That is a massive, massive thing that has been achieved. The media is talking about it, people want to know more, the masses want to look closer now without being scared or homosexuals and this is just by the teaser and the trailer. I get at least 50 messages everyday from closeted people around the country who, after watching the teaser & trailer of Sisak, want to come out to their parents and their loved ones. They ask me for my advice and help. I am flooded with messages from parents of queer people who think I should make a feature film now so that the voices are spread far and wide. Some of them have even offered me their savings to make a film. How awesome is that! It reminds me of this quote from Spiderman – “With great power comes great responsibility” Now, by making Sisak, I have become responsible for very many lives. That is the true power of cinema and my journey has only started!
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