Faraz Arif Ansari is a true craftsman, who has an eye for good and courageous cinema.
He previously worked with Amol Gupte on ‘Taare Zameen Par’ (co-writer) and ‘Stanley Ka Dabba’ (associate director)
But since then, the Mumbai-based Faraz has broken out in presenting narratives on subject matters that would often be considered ‘taboo’.
The 33-year-old Queer, Independent Indian filmmaker created history by making Sisak, India’s first silent LGBTQ love story.
Now, he is set to push the envelope further with Sheer Qorma, which is a Queer love story.
It chronicles the heart-warming love story of two traditional Muslim women.
While Swara Bhaskar and Divya Dutta play love interests, Shabana Azmi will be seen essaying the character of Divya’s mother.
In a candid interview with Filme Shilmy, Faraz talks about Sheer Qorma and the representation of same-sex relationships in Indian cinema.
Sheer Qorma amalgamates several ingredients to make a tasty dish. Besides same-sex relationships, what other key aspects will be covered in the film?
Sheer Qorma is a tale about love and acceptance it is as universal and as mainstream as that.
The fact that it happens to be between two individuals who are of the same-sex is never an aspect.
It is a reality that I feel it is time to address in the most universal way possible, without alienating the audiences.
If we want to talk about inclusion, we have to strive harder to make more inclusive stories that bring in people gently into the narrative.
That is the biggest challenge that I had to face with Sisak and with Sheer Qorma too.
What also makes the film so universal is that it also revolves around the relationship of a child and the parent, the intricacies that we’ve all faced, at various points in our lives, whether you identify as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, etc.
It is also about siblinghood, of relationships that are beyond the romantic spectrum, and also, about gender and how we must accept that it is fluid.
It is also a homage to Urdu, as a language, which is slowly dying in India.
The movie shows an Indian Muslim family, just the way they are… Not making terrorists, murderers or some evil out of the minority community that is so often misrepresented to fuel global islamophobia.
Hence, I feel, it is a political and socially relevant film too. Everything that is personal is political. All art is social. If not, what is the point of it all?
You’ve been a pioneer in casting new faces. What determined you to cast known actors like Divya Dutta and Swara Bhaskar for the lead roles?
As a filmmaker, I only serve the story. While Sisak and my other works have had the need to have new faces, likewise, a film like this, that gently explores sexuality and religion, love and acceptance.
Some very big themes to bring up in a mainstream spectrum, it needed actors who could do justice to the story and take it to the rightful audiences that are not just the LGBTQIA+ community but beyond that the mainstream filmgoers.
I feel true inclusion needs that. Sometimes, it needs actors who have beautiful legacies of work behind them, not just in cinema but also in life.
Shabana Azmi ji, Divya Dutta and Swara Bhasker are all pioneers of Indian cinema along with being powerful voices in the society, something that resonates deeply with me and my own legacy of work.
I feel stories like this needed the voices that it found. The universe always aligns when the heart is in place.
Many friends from the industry called it to be the ‘casting coup’ but in all honesty, that was never the idea.
As always, the idea was to do justice to the story and to find the right actors with the right legacies to bring this story to life. I believe it is the first time an Indian film will have an all-women leading cast.
How much of your personal experiences are channelled through the movie?
When one creates something, it is never out of just external experiences.
There are many personal stories, experiences and inspirations that find their way into the larger story and as cinematic moments that lend itself to the final frame.
Sheer Qorma is also deeply personal because I don’t think I can create anything that doesn’t resonate with me on a spiritual level.
I remember, when I wrote the climax, I was sitting by the Danube river, in Regensburg, a small town in Germany.
A few feet away from me, a family of swans were busy protecting their cygnets (young baby swans), embracing them, from time to time, keeping them away from the world.
The parent-child relationship is universal. Somewhere, that visual, that memory, the emotion, found its way into the film too.
“What you seek is seeking you,” as Rumi said.
So, in that sense, everything about the movie is personal.
Even the Sheer Qorma that we shot with, in the film, was made by my mother, along with all the Eid feast.
There is so much of me, my family, my friends, people I have loved and people I have lost that have found their way into this film.
It’s a very courageous step to present such a narrative. Do you fear any backlash or public objection?
We live in a world where talking about hate is so much easier than it is to talk about love isn’t that baffling?
When I made Sisak – India’s First Silent LGBTQ Love Story, I saw lives transforming around me.
I remember so many instances where young individuals came out to their families after watching my 16 minutes film. Can you imagine?
A 16 minutes long silent film changed the lives of people I had never met before. I remember this particular message that someone sent me on Instagram.
It said, “My brother is sleeping peacefully after the longest time only, after coming out to my parents, because you had the courage to make this film.”
What bigger award can anyone possibly ask for? When you see all of these transformations around you, there comes a point when I stopped thinking about the backlash, objections, hatred, death threats, etc.
Many things that I faced and continue to do so, all because I choose to tell stories about love.
So, in the larger scheme of things, I have made peace with it all. Like Harvey Milk said, “Hope will never be silent.” Amen to that.
Your film Sisak is billed as India’s first silent queer love story. From where do you draw inspiration to present such unorthodox and novel styles?
I listen to my heart and that is truly the only golden rule for everything that I create.
My mother continues to remind me, “Apne kaanon ko Zameen se lagaa Kar Rakha Karo” (Keep one’s ears to the ground).
My Khalajaan (my mother’s elder sister), who I was very close to and someone I lost very early in life, often told me:
“Apne dil ko zubaan Dena, dimaag ko nahin” (Let your heart speak, not your head) and my grandmother said this as a golden rule, “Kun faaya Kun” (Be and it is.)
When one is surrounded by such courageous, inspiring women, how can one not be inspired? I am blessed to have grown up surrounded by them.
My childhood was spent between the poems of Ahmed Faraz, the sonnets of Wordsworth, the stories of Jane Austen and the weekends spent listening to Begum Akthar, Farida Khanum and Abida Parveen, somewhere, it all sunk in, I suppose.
After all, we are only vessels… Just that.
Now that section 377 has been abolished, have you noticed any changes towards the attitudes in people?
Laws are easier to change than the attitudes, understandings and conditioning of an entire populous that exceeds millions.
The reading down of Section 377 is and must be considered the first step towards a long, arduous journey towards equality, acceptance and love.
We don’t have anti-discriminatory laws, the Trans community is still facing police violence, while we, the privileged, keep talking about how society is evolving.
What happens usually is, one misses out to talk about how our privileges protect us and how it exposes a huge chunk of the LGBTQIA+ community who don’t have the same access and privileges.
While section 377 was alive and kicking, along with me, many others who share the same privileges as me, had access to a safer life.
No one is safe until everyone is. No one will be accepted until all of us are.
No one will find equality until all of us stop facing discrimination the ‘all’ stands for the entire LGBTQIA+ community.
True freedom lies in there.
Now, to work towards achieving it is a journey we must embark on and for that, we must all come together and unite.
About films being produced after the reading down of Section 377, well, I made Sisak in 2016, when 377 existed.
What impact will this change in the law have in the style of films being produced/presented?
I’ve made Sheer Qorma in the world post Section 377. Did anything change?
To begin with, it is still very, very difficult to find the right support to make queer stories, especially when it comes to finding finances.
I remember this producer telling me that I will have his support if I make Sheer Qorma with two male protagonists instead of women.
So one is fighting many stigmas and phobias even in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
It is something that will take a great deal of effort, time, energy and support from all of us to bring in that acceptance and change.
Although, I am glad that the journey has begun and I am a part of this movement for love.
The LGBTQ+ representations in mainstream Hindi cinema have always been problematic and in bad taste. How far away are we from having fair, sensitive and equal depictions?
To be fair, I would speak for myself and not on behalf of the industry.
In Sisak, I tried my best to portray a relationship between two men with great care, without giving in to stereotypes and just celebrating their souls and the emotions that they feel within and for each other, without the use of words.
With Sheer Qorma, I am entering a newer, rather unexplored dimension by telling the tale of queer, Muslim women of colour the most underrepresented characters in cinema.
I remember when we were filming a crucial scene for it, Shabana Azmi ji saw the take that I had just approved and then, she turned to me and said:
“It is so refreshing to see that non-male gaze and perception in your story-telling…”
That compliment from her is something I have spent working towards for a great deal of my career – to tell a tale that does justice to the narrative and serves the story.
Talking about representation, 98% of my crew is made of women:
My Producer – Marijke de Souza, my Editor – Akshara Prabhakar, my Production Designer – Kristel Dias, Line Producer – Rohini Tekchandaney, Creative Producer – Aarti Singh, Associate Producer – Seema Hari, Script Supervisor – Aakriti Anand, Associate Director – Saloni Jain, Assistant Director – Sharmila Sharma, Make-up & Hair – Roopangi Vakharia, the PR team – Radhika Nihalani & Meghna, Costume Team – Fatima, Arpita, Mayuri.
Also, except for Jitin Gulati, my entire cast is made of women:
Shabana Azmi, Divya Dutta, Swara Bhasker, Kalyanee Mulay, Priya Malik & Shivali Chhetri, a trans-woman who is playing the character of a woman.
Representation behind the camera is as important as representation in front of the camera.
The film, in the sense, is quite path-breaking and only because of our fabulous team who came together to tell a tale of love and acceptance that needs to be told, with love.
Sheer Qorma is our love letter to hate.
The movie is expected for an early 2020 world premiere at a film festival followed by exclusive fundraisers and paid screenings.