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Shelly Chopra Dhar: LGBT community is stereotyped in Bollywood; they are shown in a derogatory or comical manner – read full interview

In an exclusive conversation, Shelly Chopra Dhar opens up about taking a plunge into Bollywood post 50, her journey till now, her responsibilities as a filmmaker and the LGBT community’s portrayal in Indian cinema!

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It was while her children were in middle school that Shelly Chopra Dhar enrolled herself in a film school. And in spite of being the sister of illustrious filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Shelly admits she’s a late entrant. But the 50-plus director of Sonam K Ahuja’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga believes that when it comes to dreams, they don’t come in bottles with an expiry date! Not only did the director make her dreams come true, but she proved to everyone that in achieving them, age is but a number. The debutante director talks to us about her journey into films.

Your brother, Vidhu Vinod Chopra is a well-established filmmaker. What took you such a long time to enter the film industry? Tell us about your journey…

Well, I’m settled in the US. My background is in computer software and I was working in the field for 15 years. Later, I took a break for the family and my priority changed. I had enjoyed computers because designing software was equally artistic. While on a break, I dabbled in ceramics. I learnt music, pottery and painting. I’m very excited about the arts, learning and doing new things. That’s part of who I am! Things that I don’t know or understand, attract me even more.

It was around then that Vidhu was working on Broken Horses in LA. He wanted me to help him with administrative work on the film, which I really enjoyed. While doing the behind-the-scenes, I fell in love with the process of film-making. And when my kids went to middle school, I enrolled myself in a film school. I was the oldest student there. I feel that there are priorities in life that change with every phase. So let’s just say I have enjoyed every phase, including this one as a filmmaker.

So, when did your film take shape?

I started with assisting on Ferrari Ki Sawaari, then 3 Idiots, and Broken Horses. After that I started working on my own scripts.

Your film’s lead protagonist played by Sonam K Ahuja is a gay character. Wasn’t that a risk for a debutante? Especially considering a mainstream ‘love story’ film has never had a lesbian protagonist?

Yes, and it was the reason that the subject was considered a risk. But it got me thinking and believing even more that this story needed to be told.

ek ladki toh dekha toh aisa laga bts sonam kapoor rajkummar rao anil kapoor shelly chopra dhar

Your first film has earned mixed reviews. Do you think the audience connected with it?

Yes. And it feels amazing when your story telling gets validated by the audience. You feel like you have achieved what you set out to do. When the audience actually understands your story in the way you planned for them, it is fantastic.

What do you have to say about the LGBT community’s representation in Bollywood?

The subject is very close to my heart. I’m nobody to speak about anyone’s work. But the LGBT community has not been represented well in our film industry. Pathos and compassion towards them in commercial cinema is lacking. I’ve always felt the portrayal of the community has not been showcased in the right spirit. It has either been shown in a derogatory fashion or in a comical manner. Both are harmful. When people go to watch these films, they come out feeling that it’s okay to laugh at them. Or they expect them to behave in a certain way!

Our films stereotype them. On the other hand, the films that do portray them sensibly and sensitively belong to parallel cinema, that has a limited reach. So, my only idea was to make film that was entertaining and not preachy. And without putting anybody down, I wanted to present them in a light that they deserve to be shown, with respect and dignity.

Your film was shot before the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality, right?

Yes, and I wish they had done it way earlier. From the film’s point of view, yes, I would have made it a little differently.

ek ladki ko dekha toh aisa laga bts anil kapoor shelly chopra dhar

Women filmmakers are expected to make films that are socially-driven or socially conscious. Do you endorse that thinking?

The term filmmaker or director is a gender-neutral term. And women or men, filmmakers should be spoken about for their films and craft. Having said that, I would take what you are saying as a compliment. We, as women, are more attuned to sensitive issues. But I feel that every filmmaker, irrespective of gender, is in a position of a great responsibility. As filmmakers, we must remember that whatever we show to people, there will be a take-away for the audience.

Even if 10 per cent of the audience is taking away something from the film, it has to be something positive. It better be good. As it is, there are enough issues in the world. And the last thing you want to do through your film is to further negativity. So I better do something that will help, if not say or do anything detrimental to society. And this, I do not know, if it comes from being a woman or a responsible filmmaker.

What about commercial aspects?

Who says that a film with a message can’t be an entertainer and work at the box office?

What are you working on next? And will you be juggling between the US and Mumbai? Or are you shifting base here?

As of now, I haven’t locked a script. But we are already working on it. All I can confirm is that my next will be entertaining too. And if there is a nice little message that you can take home, that’ll be better. I will be down from the US to make my next. For now, my family is there.

What would be your advice to women?

Never be intimidated by age or what people or society will say. If you have belief in something, do it. And when you do something truthfully from your heart, you can never go wrong.

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Exclusives

RAW actor Shadaab Khan: I want to focus more on acting now!

Having made an impactful comeback to the big screen after 19 years with Romeo Akbar Walter, Shadaab Khan reveals he is here to stay!

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Shadaab Khan was recently seen in the espionage film Romeo Akbar Walter, starring John Abraham and others. Even in a small role, he managed to make his presence felt in a suave, nuanced rendition of his screen character – Nawab Afridi – that other actors might have played loudly. Before RAW, the actor was last seen in the 2000 release Hey Ram, but we hope to see more of him in the future. In his elegant home just off Kalakar Amjad Khan Chowk in Bandra’s Pali Hill area, Suguna Sundaram caught up with the actor and his lovely wife Rumana, who was instrumental in his return to the big screen. In a candid chat, the actor talks about his big screen comeback, what kept him away for so long and juggling between writing and acting. Excerpts:

It’s been almost two decades since you disappeared from films…

Honestly, I don’t know what happened. Somewhere down the line, I just fell out of love with the business of films. I didn’t feel like I belonged here, and it was a feeling of just not wanting to be here. I wanted to explore other opportunities. It was always told to me that you should go into films because of my father (the late Amjad Khan) and grandfather (legendary late actor Jayant). I got here and thought to myself that I was probably better off someplace else. I can write. I wanted to explore that. And somewhere, while doing that, I just went further and further away from this place.

Your wife Rumana had been urging you to come back to films I believe!

Rumana played a huge part in this journey back. It was 100 per cent her doing and her belief in me. And her constantly telling me that I should not ignore something that I should be doing. She said, ‘You’re an actor, this is your family’. She was of the opinion that I should not just write, but act as well. In fact, she insisted that I was making a mistake in continually turning down work that was coming my way. Eventually, that would definitely stop. And she was absolutely right. Now I want to strike a balance between writing and acting with more attention on acting. I am thankful to her for bringing me back here, or RAW would not have happened.

So how did RAW come about then?

I am very grateful to Mukesh Chhabra’s casting agency. They always kept me in mind, for my role in Hey Ram, and kept calling me for roles. I turned down a number of roles, including one in Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur. I wasn’t sure of or keen on coming back. Plus, I’d put on a hell of a lot of weight during the time I was out. I didn’t want to be seen on screen with the 131 kilos I was back then. If you are typecast in a film and it works, every other film you get will be in that same mould. I was very scared that if I came back with Badlapur, it would not look good for me. So I started working on myself towards losing weight.  But it was very nice of Mukesh Chhabra’s agency to keep remembering me because had they not, that role in RAW might have gone to somebody else. When they called me for RAW, I knew that I was not the guy the director had in mind. The physicality of character he had in mind was something else, someone greater in size and physical stature, and more menacing.

Tell us more…

For the character of Nawab Afridi, he was looking for somebody more Nawabi, someone heavy-set, like a fat, rich man. I had lost weight by then. I was not fitting the character. Mukesh’s team said let’s audition him for the role, and when they did, it worked well. That’s how I came back, though I wasn’t planning on that even now. But the kind of films being made, opened my eyes to this, honestly.

Post RAW, what’s next on the table?

I am currently in talks for two particular web series, as an actor. Verbally, I have committed to one, and I’ve auditioned for both. The good thing about auditioning, is as an actor, it gives you practice, it sharpens you up. Auditioning is the norm now. And until you don’t make it, until I am not in that position, until the director says, ‘Hey, I want this guy, we write a role for him,’ and you don’t need to audition, until that day comes, I will keep auditioning and keep my eyes open. I’m very competitive by nature, and I don’t want to fall back.

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Malaika Arora reveals her BIG secret for a flawless summer body – watch video

Malaika Arora is undoubtedly one of the hottest celebrities in Bollywood

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Malika Arora, even at the age of 45, sure knows how to maintain a toned body. Her Instagram feed is like a fitness goal in itself and everyone just wants to know her secrets. Well, there is good news for all her fans. Malaika, who last walked the ramp for Kalki at the Bombay Times Fashion Week 2019, sat down with team CineBlitz for an exclusive chat. And we couldn’t help but ask her some summer hacks and tips.

The Chaiyya Chaiyya actress was all up for it. She opened her box of Pandora and revealed, “As cliché as it may sound, I think water is the most important. Stay hydrated. Whatever it may be, juices or just plain water, don’t forget to stay hydrated.” Well, this tip is really important for sure but she did tell us more. Wearing cool, comfy fabrics and hitting the shower whenever possible is how the actress keeps her summers breezy. Want to know more? Check out our video right here:

On the personal front, the buzz is that Malaika will soon be tying knot with her beau Arjun Kapoor. Although the actress shunned the rumours saying none of it is true, the marriage is supposedly taking place in Goa tomorrow (April 19). Stay tuned to CineBlitz for more such updates from the world of Bollywood.

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Rhea Chakraborty claims Jalebi’s failure was due to sabotage? Read shocking deets!

Rhea Chakraborty was last seen in Mahesh Bhatt’s Jalebi, which was a washout at the box office

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Bollywood stars do many films throughout their career out of which some turn out to be blockbusters while some even tank at the box office. The reasons may vary but the actors have to move on from the failure and focus on their next project. Something very similar happened with the Jalebi star Rhea Chakraborty and she exclusively told team CineBlitz what went wrong with her last outing.

“The film’s poster being tagged as a copy of some other poster was a small thing. The film did not work at the box office is what affected me more. After the release of the film, it was featured on Amazon as well and people eventually saw the film on it and we got a lot of love from that. And as for the critics and the reviews, they rammed us which I feel wasn’t required. But I guess there was some politics and some agenda to all of this. I would never believe that my work was bad. People came up to me and told me that they really enjoyed the film, so my purpose as an actor was fulfilled,” revealed Rhea.

Rhea recently featured in Jassie Gill’s music video Surma Kaala and has also signed a multi-starrer project. The official announcement, however, is yet to be made. Stay tuned to CineBlitz for more such updates from the world of Bollywood.

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