Ekta Kapoor’s web channel ALTBalaji has some interesting line-up of web-series line-up among which the unusual love story of Romil and Jugal has grabbed eyeballs for all good reasons. The story, as the name hints, is recreation of Romeo and Juliet but with a twist. It revolves around a gay couple, Romil and Jugal played by Rajeev Siddhartha and Manraj Singh respectively. The series has went on to become a craze among the youngsters and has got the actors their share of popularity. While we might think that the two are gay and hence have been able to portray the characters so effortlessly, Manraj Singh in an exclusive interview tells indianexpress.com that they both are very much straight and have girlfriends.
“The script was really easy. Our director’s sensibility is very good and she knows how to tap the young crowd. When I read script, I was like all of these situations can happen between straight couples too. Intercaste, interreligion and all that thing. We just thought its love, we did not think about the gender,” says Jugal aka Manraj.
When asked why he chose a gay character to begin his career with, he said, “Why not? I wanted play a character which challenges me and is starkly opposite to what I am. I have come from theatre background in which we are taught that no role is big or small. The character is important.”
He added that the series was supposed to be a film but the plan got scrapped because the Supreme Court passed Article 377. “This was suppose to be a film and I had auditoned for it. During that time, Article 377 was passed by the government. So, the makers cancelled the entire thing. I had auditioned for the webseries much later but it’s only after I got selected that I got to know that it’s the same film which is being turned into a series.”
While everything was smooth and went as per the plan, one thing that could have gone against the actors and makers is the kissing scene between the characters. And provided our society is homophobic to an extent, backlash was something even Manraj was expecting to happen. But to his surprise, he was getting more recognition and people were opening up to him about their sexuality. Recalling the fan moments, Manraj quite excitingly narrates, “people have connected with me on different levels. At times, I feel like a therapist because people open up to me about their sexuality. They ask me advice. One person called me from London and told me that he is closetted but my character makes him feel free hence he would open up about his sexual orientation soon. He spoke to me for half and hour. I thought that we would be judged and questioned but this kind of response is overwhelming.”
And talking about the kiss, Manraj very confidently says ‘what are we actors for if we don’t feel our characters?’ The web-series has some subtle intimate scenes and even kissing scenes which might make a guy uncomfortable. But Manraj says he was extremely comfortable with his Romil aka Rajeev. “I was finalised before Romil’s character. I was part of the auditions and felt a vibe with Rajeev. We instantly hit off. Our director was very clear that the kiss would happen. By the time we had to shoot the scene, we were quite comfortable and shared a good rapport with each other. Off shoot, we would chill together and talk about our relationships, girlfriends and other things. This kiss was one take. We knew that if we mess this up, we would have to do it over and over again, which would make the moment lose the feeling. So, it had to be perfect and we did it that way.”
“We did not want it to be vulgar because one it was a kiss between two men and two, our country is too homophobic. So, we did not want to shoo the viewers. Ekta gave me confidence that it would be shot in a way that even our parents can watch,” Manraj continues. He thanked Ekta Kapoor and said, “She gave us full freedom to be expressive and creative. She was there as a back up.”
Concluding the interview, Manraj said that he hopes this series make people go easy on people’s sexual orientation. “The concept of LGBT has risen in recent time. So, you would have to give time to our society to adapt it. I too had reservations about same sex love but after playing Jugal, I have opened up. My mindset has changed. People need to talk about it often. We need to stop judging them as being a gay is a choice and it will make no harm to you in person.”
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