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“I want to tell more LGBT stories in a mainstream format” – Gazal Dhaliwal

Gazal Dhaliwal was born with a Gender Dysphoria, a condition in which a person feels his emotional and physical identity to be that of the opposite sex. She underwent a sex change operation a couple of years and has proudly stood for who she is. A part of her life-experiences came alive on the screen in the form of ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’, a film which she had written. In this interview, she talks about her recently released short film ‘Monsoon Date’, desire to tell stories representing the LGBT community, the underwhelming response to ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’, love for thrillers, writing dialogues for Amitabh Bachchan in ‘Wazir’, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ being an important part of her filmography and more.

How did the idea for ‘Monsoon Date’ come to you?

I love romance and I love the monsoon season. I had this idea of a single woman going out on a date and it is raining very heavily. I shared the idea with Tanuja (Chandra, director) and she told me there is a lot of potential in it. Then, I thought that maybe she is going to reveal a secret about her to the man. While there is a storm outside, there is a storm brewing inside her. The first draft was very basic. I wrote a couple of drafts more and kept adding characters to it. Basically, it originated from the idea of going on a date in the monsoon season. It was great working with Tanuja, Konkona (Sen Sharma) and the entire team. I had written the dialogues for ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ which Konkona was a part of but I did not get to interact with her during the making of that film.

You had written ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’. I personally loved the film but it did not do very well. Do you think the audience is still reluctant to watch films on LGBT issues?

Yes, I think so. I went to several screenings. In a lot of those screenings, while there would be some people clapping, some people would get up in the second half and leave.

Just like the play in the film.

Yes, just like that. It was unreal. People are still not ready to watch such films but that does not mean we should not tell such stories. Making people aware of issues is the only way to bring about a change. What I was very satisfied is that the LGBT community absolutely loved the film. The film gave some individuals the courage to come out in the open and speak to their families about their sexuality. The director and I used to discuss that if we manage to bring about a small change in an individual’s life, we would be successful.

Do you think the web is a better place to tell these stories?

Yes! Web does not have censorship and you get a lot of freedom as a content creator. Buy, web has a limited reach as of now. I am sure it will get better with time. Mainstream cinema has a much bigger reach and that is why attempted to tell a story like ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ in a feature-film format.

Apart from writing issue based films like ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ and ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’, you have also written films that are in a slightly different mould like ‘Wazir.

I love thrillers. I had a great time working on ‘Wazir’. I feel the film deserved to do better. I was personally thrilled that I got to do the dialogues for Mr. Amitabh Bachchan.

 ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ is quite an important film in your filmography.

Yes, it is a very important film for me. I will always be very proud of it. I signed the film in 2013 and it came out in 2017. It went through a lot of controversies and finally, managed to have a theatrical release for itself. I did the dialogues for the film. When I read the screenplay, I thought ‘I had to write for it. I cannot let go of it.’ In the film, there were four women who were trapped in a patriarchal society. I have also felt trapped as a human being in the past. No matter what people say, being a woman in this world means you are trapped in some way or the other.

In the past, Bollywood used to represent LGBT community in a stereotypical way. That seems to be changing looking at the way the community has been portrayed in films like ‘Kapoor & Sons’, ‘Aligarh’ and ‘Ek Ladki Toh Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’?

Yes, things have changed gradually but I do not think it is anyway close to being enough. Research shows that 7% of the population belongs to the LGBT community. We must make films to represent a community the members of which exist in such large numbers.

What are the kind of subjects you are interested in working on in the near future?

I would love to write another thriller. I want to tell more LGBT stories in a mainstream format. I do not think I can write an out-and-out masala film. There is nothing wrong with such films but I do not think I would be able to do justice to that genre as a writer. I try to incorporate an element of intrigue in all my stories.

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