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"Straight is a film about a homophobic guy"- Gul Panag

Gul Panag
There is always this fear of messing it all up when you ask or throw your questions to intelligent personalities, who when talk, talk 'straight', no tedhi medhi baat. Especially Mr. Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Lara Dutta and of course, the dimpled beauty and the ever so coiffed Gul Panag. We were suppose to talk a couple of days back but it all zeroed down to the Mumbai airport yesterday when the actress was to catch her flight to attend the Delhi premiere of her latest flick Straight.

Totally professional, ready for whatever over-personal or inane questions we throw at her, and it's really hard to resist the urge to tell her how many times we've watched her dimpled cheeks looking so gorgeous in the Tata Sky commercial with Aamir or how we saw her Manorama Six Feet Under or the countless other ways we've admired her for what seems like forever. Anyway, so here we go on a yet another intelligent talkathon. Sipping the hot coffee from the mug we open the book of questions and on the other side, a sugar free tea did the trick for Gul. 8.45 in the morning couldn't have been so sweet.

Our correspondent joins Gul Panag in a poignant chat about experimenting with the audiences, her trust for her director Parvati, the feedback she got from the insiders who saw the film, what tickled her funny bone, her success and failure, whether homosexuality should be legalised, what makes Straight a tedhi medhi love story and a twisted individual called Vinay Pathak.

Did the coffee or the tea smell any sweeter this morning?
(Laughs) I'm still waiting for my tea to arrive. The release is just couple of days away and I have a feeling that this is going to be a film to which people are going to connect to across the board. This is yet another milestone in the kind of work I've set out to do and I'm hoping that it'll be well received.

Are we really experimenting with our audiences now with such diverse films being released in cinemas?
The multiplexes have sectioned the audiences in a manner where the audience are in a position to choose the film they want to watch. Having said that, the kind of audience for a film like Straight already exists. It need not be created. There are films that are being made now for that particular section of the audience.

Do films like Straight challenge you as an actor where the scope to perform is minimal?
Every film, every role and every scene I do in films is a challenge. I don't think I'll be able to perform if I am constantly nervous or stressed. It's difficult to some extent playing a character which has a dominant driving emotion in films like Manorama or Dor. When there isn't a particularly outstanding over bearing trait in her personality, such roles are much harder. Much harder even to make these characters look real and normal without making it look like it doesn't exist. There is a very fine line between trying to not let it look contrived and fake and then yet not making it look 'thanda' and frigid.

The role hasn't traumatized you, has it?
(Laughs) In terms of mental trauma, this character has given me the most. I remember I asked my director Parvati as to what can I do with my character and she replied back saying just be yourself and be spontaneous. I was watching an interview she gave yesterday on the television show which was being done on me where she said, "The best thing I like about Gul's work is that when she goes into a scene, she doesn't know what she is going to do". And that is precisely what I do. I don't know how to react. This character has given me more sleepless nights than any other even though it looks very simple.

What qualities did Parvati have where you would trust her with such an important film?
I'll answer this question even more simply. Parvati and I have done a film before Straight which is still untitled and to be released in the next three four months. It's got a little bit of work left though. Out of three films Parvati has made, I am in two of them already. I didn't even read the script of Straight till I reached London because that's the kind of faith I had in her. I eventually did and my first reaction was - wow! Now how do you make a normal character endearing and interesting? For the first three to four days I was really stressed out but the more I was honest to myself and enjoyed on and off the sets, I felt more comfortable. Parvati is normal and that's what makes me trust her.

Have you seen the film and any kind of feedback you've received?
I saw the film three days ago. Ketan Mehta saw the film and said, "I can't believe it. This is your best film ever. You light up the screen". I wasn't expecting such a positive feedback from the film. Yes, it's a nice film but the insiders have told me something else which is quite shocking. I have to tell you this; there is a young advertising guy who is a good friend of mine too. He has found a fault in everything I've done except Manorama, whether it's my face, my hands, my hair, my lips, etc. Guess what, he is my truest friend from the industry. He saw Straight and said that he couldn't believe how nice I was.

You aren't a narcissist are you?
Not really. But I remember having a chat with Nagesh during Dor when I wanted to see myself in the monitor as to how I was looking and he said, "It doesn't even matter how you're looking. Do you want to see how you're looking on screen or want people to see the same?"

What really tickled your funny bone when you saw the film?
I think the way Parvati has cut it. I knew the story, so it can't tickle me. But as an audience I'm sure it's going to tickle you. It's so funny the way the editor and Parvati has edited the film. The way the film is put together has exceeded my expectations.

Has success or failure ever compromised your vision towards commercial cinema?
I don't think there is any other kind of cinema. Every film that is made is made with the intent of earning money. We don't make them for private viewing. But I'm sure there are filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino who make films for himself only (laughs). That is commerce and that's why it's termed as commercial cinema. I didn't do a Dor thinking that it'll change my life. I haven't thought of success or failure but the day I do, I'll evaluate these things.

How do you empathize or even understand a guy like Pinu Patel?
You don't. He is just a mystery. I remember interviewing Vinay and he was interviewing me. It was an interesting format. When I was doing that, I realised that he is an inherent good man even though he is twisted in certain ways and I am not saying that in a psychopathic manner. It's what experience we emotionally go through after the screw up that determines ones true character. I think a person who regrets is a better human being than the person for whom nothing makes a difference. Pinu's character may not be always in the white but when he is in the black, the goodness in him comes out.

Clear this air about Straight being a film about homosexuality.
Straight is a film about a homophobic guy. Pinu Patel is homophobic just like the bulk of the Indian population. In this society you are a conformist and sexuality is one small part of it. To conform would be to be heterosexual and the non conformists are to be the homosexual. It's all a matter of choice. We've always looked down upon these whether it's in sexuality, thought or any opinion. By and large, we are a homophobic society. Pinu suddenly figures that there is a possibility that he could just be a gay. Now imagine the trauma of Pinu, a man who hates people who are gays.

Do you think homosexuality should be legalized?
On whether homosexuality should be legalised or not, I've always maintained that sexuality is a very private matter. Neither a society nor a state has any right to interfere in this matter. They shouldn't even comment on a matter like this, I believe. Tomorrow we'll have a state saying that on Monday we should wear pink underwear, on Tuesday you wear a green one. They will tell us what way to brush our teeth too. All this is too personal. You shouldn't judge anybody on sexual orientation. I hope I've answered your question.

What makes Straight a tedhi medhi love story?
It's tedhi because it's a typical love story where a boy meets girl, they have some trouble and things work out. A tedhi medhi love story because it's not according to plan in more ways than at least five (laughs) or at least three. There is this guy who hopes he is a regular guy who is pushing forties. He thinks that one day will come when he finds his match - a girl, and he almost finds her. He lives in a quintessential hope that all of us live in. His love life is one set of messy things after the other, from one tedha to doosra tedha to teesra tedha.

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