‘Geeli Pucchi’, the short film on Netflix anthology ‘Ajeeb Dastaan’ talks about caste, sexuality, privilege and patriarchy in a powerful way. The best thing about the film is that it shows all the character in the perfect shade of grey. In an exclusive interview with Outlook, national award-winning writer-director, Neeraj Ghaywan and actor Aditi Rao Hydari talk about the complexities of the characters in ‘Geeli Pucchi’. The film shows the deep-rooted prejudices that still exist in our society. Excerpts:
‘Geeli Pucchi’ talks about caste and sexuality, how did you make it look so realistic?
Neeraj: We all live multiple realities at one time. It could be a political identity; it could be a personal identity and all of these identities’ kind of battle with each other or is in harmony. In life too one identity can give you privilege, the other cannot offer that. There are multiple marginalised identities and we need to be aware that, they are actually are in conjunction and they can’t be seen in isolation. Like for instance, Aditi’s character ‘Priya’ she faces so much of patriarchy that she cannot express herself about what she really enjoys doing in life. Bharti’s character, who is a Dalit and society is not accepting her, but she has accepted who she is. She can explore her sexuality and she has the freedom to live her life according to her own terms. So, there are complexities and hence I chose to speak for them. In our films majorly, we believe in either black or white. I wanted to contextualize people from where they make certain choices. We cannot just ‘villainise’ people.
Preparing for the role…
Aditi: I wanted to work with Neeraj and it is really nice to see so much honesty he puts in his work. For me, this role is so different from anything that I had done before. The script was fantastic. All the layers of the characters are beautifully created that as actors we had to just get into the role with zero judgement. I completely surrendered myself to playing the role of ‘Priya’ and went with the flow. Neeraj spoke about the various issues the film deals with and subconsciously it stayed in my mind while I performed. I went with the core understanding of the character and where she comes from and who she is. I came like a sponge on sets and absorbed the emotions of the role.
‘Priya’, the character that I play is very unlike me in every way. She is very naïve and she is the product of her cocooned upbringing which some may call her to be privileged. But she doesn’t have the right to make her own choices or to even understand them or realise them. She is very trusting and she shares her most confused vulnerable moment of her life with actually a stranger whom she has just befriended. The role was very beautifully written and the relation that the two women share is so pure. But I really enjoyed playing her.
Did you draw these characters from real life experience?
Neeraj: No, actually I saw a Malayali woman who is a cop and when she was walking by in plain civil clothes, I kind of conjured up a story just taking a lead from her personality. These characters came from a place of my feminism which is very personal because I have seen patriarchy in my own household and this is my reaction to it. This is not me projecting something that I disown or not a part of it. I have suffered through patriarchy even being a male. So, the fulcrum of things that I do lies around caste, gender and sexuality. But again, I cannot replicate the lived experience that many women go through, I can only empathise saying that I know it all. But it should come from a place of learning from people, listening to people from other communities and involving them in narratives. That is the reason I have involved people from various communities to be a part of it to strengthen my narrative.
Caste discrimination which leads to jealousy…
Neeraj: The role of ‘Bharti Mandal’ played by Konkona Sen Sharma shows that she is being denied opportunities at work and even in love because of who she is. In her own way she is trying to say that I will take what is rightfully mine. And I feel my whole aim was to present all that characters not as just positive and negative.
The character of Priya played by Aditi is also to some extent conscious that she belongs to a high caste. Bharti’s character played by Konkona, who is a Dalit girl, is also trying to get a place in the world where she is denied opportunities and positions at which she is far better at. So, it is not jealousy, but her assertiveness and she feels that she deserves to have it, but she is being denied. Whereas the role played by Aditi shows that she is coming from the privileged high caste, but she is unable to express her sexuality. So, there is that duality that exists in all of us and that’s how I see them.
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