For anyone who grew up in the northern part of India in the last couple of decades, the words Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui takes them back to a regular Punjabi wedding. The song, which is still played with fervour, became the title to the latest Ayushmann Khurrana film and with the trailer, the audience was left intrigued. While it appeared to be a glossy rom-com with Ayushmann Khurrana and Vaani Kapoor in the lead roles, it had a stronger subject at its core. Talking to indianexpress.com, the film’s director Abhishek Kapoor explained the team’s decision to hint at the film’s subject in the trailer, their casting choices, and the responsibility that he feels while telling the story of a transgender person.
The trailer of the film merely hinted at the larger subject of the film and Abhishek said that it was a conscious call so the audience feels curious. “What happens is the trailer is of 2 minutes. It has a certain tone. The subject and representation could be misunderstood and that could be very damaging to the film, and to the issue itself. Hence we just kind of hinted about it but did not go all out. And there is so much more in the film that we can say, can be more inviting.” Abhishek added that, in the trailer, they touched upon the look and feel of the film and also highlighted the chemistry between the lead pair – Ayushmann and Vaani. “The kind of chemistry they have, I thought that should be exciting enough for people to say ‘we like what’s happening here, let’s step into the theatre and see what’s going on’,” he said.
Mainstream Hindi cinema has shied away from LGBTQ stories but with Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Abhishek Kapoor has attempted to bring the story of a transgender person on screen. Abhishek shared that he feels the “responsibility” towards the community and added that this is not a film that he made “overnight” but rather took “several years to come to this draft of the script”. “There is a lot of thought that went into it. The LGBTQ community is put in a group but they are very different. LGB is one thing, but T is something totally different. When we talk about lesbian, gay and bisexual, it is about what kind of sexual preferences you have, who do you get attracted to. When you talk about the trans community, it is not like that at all. It is a very serious inner turmoil that the community goes through and when I started this research, I realised that this is far more difficult for people to even comprehend,” he said.
Abhishek added, “People who have not been through it, they have no idea about it. They take their life and their body so much for granted that they think that their mind and their body is one, but it is not. Sometimes you could be a different mind in a different body so it is a mind-bending thought. Most people cannot even comprehend that gender dysphoria is a huge thing. People who go through it know the kind of pain that they are going through. Right now, this is a phenomenon all over the world where people are recognising it, understanding it and making room to accept them. It is a serious condition that they go through.”
We asked Abhishek Kapoor if there was ever a conversation about casting a transgender person in the lead role to which he replied in the affirmative. He shared, “We went through many avenues and there was a thought about casting a trans person but you know I find everyone is so fascinated just by actors. Why is it that everything is legitimised by an actor? Why can’t a trans person write the film? Why can’t a trans person direct the film? First of all, this fascination is incorrect. Films are not made by actors, they are made by filmmakers and writers. Eventually, there is a representation by an individual actor but I try to see above this because there is a story to be told. You have to reach out to people at large by taking the story to them and I thought this is the best way to take this story there. When you talk to someone, you have to talk to them in their language.” When asked if any other transgender people were associated with the making of the film, the director shared that he met a lot of transgender people during the writing stage.
Abhishek shared that he found transgender people to be more “evolved” because of the “journey they have had”. “Even spiritually, they are so much more elevated than regular people because they are people who totally understand the cis community and they can understand how they feel but they are so aware of their own feelings as to how they want them to be handled and who they want to be. That level of awareness is very elevated. I think that comes from the pain they have been through and the journey they have been through to make that progression,” he said.
His research aside, Abhishek stressed that with this film he is just trying to “aid a conversation”. “I’m not a trans person. I am not claiming to be the voice of the trans people. They are themselves the only ones who can do that but I am just trying to aid a conversation,” he shared.
Ayushmann Khurrana has often been associated with movies that belong to the road less travelled. In an earlier film, Ayushmann played a gay man who is trying to bring a change in his boyfriend’s family. “I think films about gay people are pretty much normalised and accepted the world over. A movie about a homosexual relationship or a homosexual character is like a normal film now. I mean those people who are not going to accept it, they will never accept anything so you should just forget about them. Aap soye ko jaga sakte ho, jaage hue ko jya jagaoge? (You can wake someone who is sleeping but if someone is already awake, how will you wake them up?).”
Abhishek Kapoor added that the trans community is “a long way” from being understood. He explained, “Being gay is about what you want, who your sexual partner will be, who you want to love but being trans is about who you are inside. This journey is very difficult and it is very difficult to explain it to somebody. The trans community across the world is being accepted. People are talking about gender fluidity, gender being a spectrum, and there is so much more to understand, to grasp, and to get into the meaning of it. You will realise that this is something that has not been tackled before.”
Abhishek suggests that picking a massy popular song as the film’s title was a conscious choice since this would allow the film to reach a bigger audience. Sharing that it was Ayushmann who suggested the song for the film, Abhishek said, “If you really want to make a film in this country, you have to talk to the masses and you have to talk to them in their language.”
“I am hoping the audience would understand it, accept it and after accepting will come the normalisation of it. This is a journey,” concluded Abhishek.