Actor Preeti Gupta on her role as a lesbian in Unfreedom, a film banned in India, and what she learnt in the process of the film’s making.
Actor Preeti Gupta made her TV debut with a Hindi soap like Kahani Gha Ghar Ki but then went on to study at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, New York. After her return she acted in the indie Mere Haule Dost and Arthur Miller’s play, The Price. A popular theatre actor, she has also been a part of several plays such asRomeo and Juliet directed by Ted Zurkowski,Kids Strike directed by Francesco Campari. She played Labanya in Rabindra Nath Tagore’s The Last Farewell directed by Shubrajyoti Barat.
The actor is now in the news for her bold portrayal of a lesbian girl Leela in Unfreedom, a film that’s been banned in India, but released in the U.S, end-May. Unfreedom is U.S.-based Raj Amit Kumar’s debut film set in New York and Delhi. The film approaches sexuality and violence with a focus on the Muslim and LGBT identities. Preeti plays Leela Singh, a closeted homosexual girl in Delhi who leaves her orthodox father’s home to kidnap her activist bisexual lover, and marry her. In focus, as much as the issue, have been her intimate and nude scenes in the film, without using a body double.
Excerpts from a telephonic interview:
What made you choose this role? You did expect controversy…
I knew it would be controversial. But as an actor it was a brilliant role, because of the kind of human suffering my character Lela goes through… a film likeUnfreedom needed to be made. I always thought I wanted to do something meaningful. This is a significant film – difficult but important.
What was the real challenge in this role? How did you prepare?
The challenge really was in portraying a homosexual because I’m not. I worked a lot on that; I wanted it to look truthful. Leela’ life is really hard and what she goes through is hard and violent. I was in New York when I was offered the film. For almost 20 days I did a workshop with my teacher Jeoffery Horne. Later when I came to India, I did workshops with (fellow actors) Dilip Shankar and Adil Hussain. I also had to prep for the intimate scenes.
Were you expecting the ban in India, considering how reactions to films on homosexuality have been?
Not really! I knew there would be some controversy and opposition, given the conservative take on homosexuality. But I didn’t know it would be this dramatic. In the U.S., where the film released end-May, it’s been seen as a hard-hitting film that has moved a lot of people. They have started understanding the situation of homosexuals in India.
What is your personal takeaway from the film?
I think we are every unkind to the LGBT community. It’s only a small section of people in the large metros in India who have an acceptance of an alternate sexuality. There’s still a lot of fear. Personally, my takeaway would be not forgetting the humanness of every individual, irrespective of our choices. We bracket humans in categories. But every life is precious, no matter what.
You’ve made your Hindi TV debut with something as regressive as Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki. Isn’t this a dramatic contrast then?
I really didn’t think in terms of image. But I wanted a break from TV, so I went to acting school in New York. At the end of the day, the character of Leela just spoke to me.
What other projects are you working on currently?
I’m busy directing my first play The Owl and The Pussycat. I’m planning my next shows. Comedy is such a good break from the seriousness of this role. I want to spend time figuring out what I want to do. It may not be TV, because TV can really consume you.