Gauri Shinde Iam not an underground womens activist I am only a...

Gauri Shinde Iam not an underground womens activist I am only a filmmaker


She doesn’t mind her language (English or Vinglish) or her thoughts when it comes to expressing herself. She has strong opinions, free-flowing, but never too imposing. Subtle and sure. An iron fist in a velvet glove. Soft to touch, but firm to shake. Like her stories — simplistically set in the make-real world, with warm vibes, wondrously fleshed out characters and moments to behold. Director Gauri Shinde tells us that she likes to travel like a vagabond and gather her thoughts along the way. And come home to unpack her stories. One such is her next, ‘Dear Zindagi’, also written and co-produced by her, which is on the verge of release. Her restless energy is palpable, but she takes a breather, and in between cackles, coffee and khakra, our conversation unfolds…

You said that you didn’t have any actor in mind while writing your first film, ‘English Vinglish’. But the casting turned out to be perfect. For ‘Dear Zindagi’, did you have Alia Bhatt or Shah Rukh Khan in mind at the concept stage?

I don’t write with anybody in mind, it limits me. We are lucky to have such good actors who can hold themselves in any part. Alia is special. I’m so lucky to have met her and start this journey with her. I end up falling in love with my actors. Having made two films, I now understand how directors and actors forge these strong relationships. It has nothing to do with gender or sexual attraction. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can work only with people who I can connect with. I get that sense of connection long before the shoot begins. The chemistry between the director and actor needs to work even before the chemistry between the actors sparks off.

Did Alia take a while to get comfortable sharing the space with Shah Rukh? He might not be intimidating, but he has this aura…

Well, he is ‘Shah Rukh Khan!’, and we can’t deny that. Not just Alia, even I had moments when I thought, ‘Okay, we have SRK here with us’. We had script reading sessions before the shoot so that we all were on the same page, but when he was actually on the set and I said ‘action’, Alia and I had that ‘wow’ moment. I asked myself if this is really happening, it felt unreal. For me, it’s not like I direct stars every day. Yes, SRK has this aura which you can’t take away from him, but even with all the aura, there is something so real about him. He makes it so easy for people working with him. Professionally, he’s so respectful to everyone, especially women. Even if he has to make a suggestion, he does it so gently that you instantly get a positive vibe. He’s five times more experienced than Alia and I put together, but he never behaves like he knows it all. So, we overcame that inhibition quickly with him, and got into the zone we were supposed to be in.

You have said that the reason you made your second film was Sridevi…

After ‘English Vinglish’, I wasn’t sure about making another movie. In fact, after I completed the film, I thought I was done, until I went for the screening in Toronto. The response that I witnessed there was overwhelming. Teary-eyed people came up to me and thanked me for making the movie. I realised the power of cinema in the true sense, and not just because my movie was winning praise. Also, the kind of relationship I shared with Sridevi while making the film made it easy for me. I’ve heard horror stories about how difficult it is to cast people, get stars and work with them. Touch wood…I haven’t experienced anything like that so far. It gave me confidence to believe that I could make films the way I wanted to. My parallel love is also travelling and seeing the world like a vagabond. It makes me gather thoughts, as I get my ideas from life. So between all that, it takes me time to get down to writing and making movies.

You like telling your stories through a female protagonist…

Stories interest me more than the gender of actors. I think male directors should be asked why they think of male protagonists, as that’s all we have been doing for the longest time. In fact, ‘Dear Zindagi’ didn’t have to be from a girl’s point of view at all. It is gender agnostic. What she goes through could be happening to anyone young or old, man or woman. I just felt that it would be more compelling for a woman to do it. It felt right for the story.

Your husband R Balki and you have been in the same profession (ad-filmmaking and now movies) for long. How much are both of you a part of each other’s work?

I totally pull him into my work, I don’t know whether he needs me or not. I grab him into making decisions wherever needed; it is not up to him to like it or not, he has to. He’d rather that I left him in his space, but I don’t allow him that privilege (laughs!). He’s not as needy I think, but when he’s making a film, I just plonk myself in some areas of his work. But we don’t force our views on each other.

Are you critical of each other’s work? Balki told me that he never watches his commercials or movies once it is done. Even if they come on TV, he turns it off and feels deeply embarrassed. Are you like that, too?

I am very critical and it’s my bad quality. In fact, sometimes I have to remind myself that I have to say nice things, too. Balki has a better way of saying things. Once he’s done with his work, he doesn’t like seeing it again. But I am not like that. The only reason I might switch off is because I am bored of seeing it so many times during post production. After maybe six months, I wouldn’t mind watching it. Of course, I cringe at parts where I think I could’ve done better. After a year, it almost feels like the film is not even mine. Today, when I see ‘English Vinglish’, I feel… ‘Really, have I made that?’ It feels a little distant. It feels like your child who grew wings and flew away. Then you see them on the internet and say… ‘Oh, nice to meet you’.”

Both of you have made films that talk about gender stereotypes. Of course, ‘English Vinglish’ was more about how a woman, in whatever role she plays in the family and society, deserves respect. Balki’s Ki & Ka threw light on the changing dynamics between today’s couples. In that sense, both of you think similarly…

It is not something we think of, it’s subconsciously in our head. It’s odd that we are even thinking of it like it is something unique. In fact, it is ingrained; and I don’t think that I’m doing anything special. I’m not trying to make gender statements with my movies. After ‘English Vinglish’, people misinterpreted me, they thought I am probably an underground women’s activist. I am not, I am only a filmmaker. I have been called for events to be a front for women’s causes, it was surprising. I don’t want to hold a flag for one cause or the other. I want to share my personal beliefs and if they happen to make a statement, great! If cinema can engage you and do something to you, it’s great. It does not necessarily have to transform society, as that is a huge task. If it can impact someone positively, it’s good enough.

Balki believes that marriage is a flawed institution. Your views?

I believe marriage is totally passe. I think it happened because we followed the norm. Like going to college, getting a degree, then post-graduation…we just followed suit. Times have changed now. I like the concept of community living, and I don’t mean the hippie lifestyle. I mean living together with friends who you can connect with and share a similar vibe. It’s like a big joint family of people you have chosen. You create your family and join it. I know it sounds far-fetched, but why not?

In an earlier interview, Balki told me that at times you would tell him, “I wish you were the characters you write…”

I keep telling Balki that he is such a fraud and that he should practise what he’s shown in Arjun’s (Kapoor) character in ‘Ki & Ka’ (laughs!). I tell him that he should just take care of me, make food for me, pamper me et al. He makes tea when our cook is not around, and he can rustle up an omelette. Actually, he’s a good cook, but he doesn’t cook much. The men in his films are sensitive people, I wish he was 80 per cent of that. Well, he’s sensitive to other men and women around him. You know how it is with your own life partner.

On your first date, you and Balki went for a movie. Is watching movies still a way of spending quality time together?

We love watching films together. Of course, he likes a lot of those man-man films, which I can’t watch. He’s watched ‘Narcos’, a show which I haven’t gotten into. At that point, I feel like he is almost betraying me, as watching these shows together is our thing. We binge-watch our favourite shows, so if one of us has gone ahead of the other, it’s cheating. We have to catch up. The real cheating would still be okay, but this one is not on (laughs!).

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