The first day Kalyanee Mulay reported for the shoot (in January 2017) of the Marathi movie Nude, the actor presumed she was ready to depict the journey of its protagonist Yamuna, a nude model working at an arts school. For nearly two years prior to that, she had meticulously surfed the internet for material and documentaries on the lives of nude models, watched nude models pose for the students of Mumbai’s JJ School of Art and studied artwork to understand their postures. However, when National Award winning director Ravi Jadhav asked the actor if she was “ready” for the shot — for which she had to remove her clothes and pose for an art class — Mulay was gripped by inhibitions that she had tried, and trained, to let go of.
“As an actor, I know I have to treat my body as a tool. But when you actually have to take off your clothes and face the camera, it triggers a lot of churning inside you,” says 29-year-old Mulay. When real-life models pose for a class at JJ School of Art, they usually wear their petticoats around their bust. Once the session begins, they let the petticoats slip down. Even though Mulay was by then familiar with this process, she sat motionless clutching her petticoat during the shoot. “I wondered if I was ready to remove my clothes in front of the camera. Unknowingly, a tear drop rolled down my face,” says Mulay. The scene they were shooting that day was one of the many “sittings” at the school, as shown in the movie. In fact, Nude has also recreated Mulay’s trepidation during the shoot when Yamuna is shown to have similar reactions on the first day of her job. But just as Yamuna settled down to it over a period of time, Mulay too eased into it like a routine, as the filming progressed.
In November 2017, Nude grabbed headlines when it was dropped from the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Goa, by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry — even though the official jury had selected it to open the Indian Panorama section of the festival. The movie received an A-certificate and a Maharashtra release, besides releases in other parts of India recently, on April 27. Nude is also opening the New York India Film Festival on May 7, where Mulay has been nominated for the Best Actress award. However, she is still upset over its IFFI exclusion. “Opening the Indian Panorama would have given the movie a national platform and a very different kind of audience,” says the actor, who has made cameo appearances in movies Ringan (2017) and Ribbon (2017).
Jadhav, an alumnus of JJ Art School, had been harbouring the idea of Nude for quite some time. The writer-director approached Mulay in 2014 to play the role of Yamuna when he came to know about Mulay’s performance in a non-verbal devised play, Unseen. A critique of patriarchy and how society perceives feminity, the play was directed by Vishnupad Barve; it challenged established notions as it explored topics such as gaze, sanitation, beautification and menstruation. Talking about Jadhav’s project, Mulay, who graduated from the National School of Drama in 2012, says, “It took me a minute to say, ‘let’s do it’ to Ravi sir. Every actor wishes to do something different. This role seemed like that opportunity,” says Mulay.
A crucial part of Mulay’s preparation for the role was her meeting with Lakshmi. A middle-aged nude model from Tamil Nadu, Lakshmi is fondly called Lakshmi amma by students at the school. Mulay and her co-star Chhaya Kadam — she plays a veteran nude model Chandrakka who introduces Yamuna to the profession — watched Lakshmi do 4-5 hour sittings for students in the classrooms at the school. “In the classroom, she was simply doing her job. So were the students. We were the intruders. We were studying her and the people around her,” says Mulay. The NSD graduate toyed with the idea of having a lithe body after she took up the role but decided against it. “With the kind of life Yamuna leads, there was no scope of her having a toned body,” says the actor, who didn’t do any special training or dieting for the role. Nude also features real-life artists and students of the school as the painters for whom Yamuna models. “The kind of gaze they have was completely different from what others would have. I was a bit plump then and was naturally conscious of that,” says Mulay. The experience of Nude, says the actor, has made her realise that “it’s gaze that divides art and pornography”.