begin with, making India's first film on drag queens was rather an unnerving
task. What will the actors think
what will the unit think. How the crew,
particularly the lightmen & runner boys will react to men dressed up as
women and lusting after men! How will they react to a drag cabaret and a drag
'mujhra'. How will they react to a shower sequence!
And to a man eyeing the bum of a teenager!
When we were looking for a location to shoot in, we were rather queasy. Since we didn't have any budget, we asked around some of our friends. And we wanted to be truthful. Amazingly most of our friends were not very shocked by the film's subject. But they had reservations about men dressed as women moving in and out of their house. Anyways, we finally shot at a regular shooting location because it offered us more space and convenience.
The first person who was shocked was our costume guy! We called him over with instructions that we wanted two dancers' costumes. When he came for measurements, we showed him the two male actors who were to perform the dance! He freaked out. He then had to get special sized costumes made (for our rather heavy-sized performers!). The costume guy also went and shopped for padded bras! The costume trials held in our office were hilarious.
Script readings were a riot. The lead actors Ramesh and Edwin had to really camp it up and surely the people next to our office were scandalised! Being overtly enthusiastic, they even started rehearsing their dance steps in our small office space. Another spin off to the rehearsal was that the actor who was to play the stud in the film had to be changed. Casting for the role of the hunk, for whom two drag queens and a gay teenager lust for, was tough enough. Many of the television actors refused the role since they didn't want to be portrayed as a bisexual (image problems or too close to the truth?!). One stud who agreed to do the role and said he was very comfortable with a role like this was totally dumbstruck when Ramesh and Edwin really camped it up. As per the scene requirement, they even had to get a little physical with him, which left the stud completely tongue-tied. When his turn for the dialogue came up, he was completely dumb-stuck. We of course had to drop him and opt for another actor!
We were also quite uncertain how the shoot would go on the floors. Rehearsing in the office is one thing, but performing the same in front of a unit of 50 people is another. How will the unit react to a film like this? Mercifully the fears were rather ungrounded. The unit took to it as one more story - and a rather interesting one at that. They all agreed it was 'different'. And many of them came out with their own stories. Of how they knew one such person. How they have met drag queens, etc. They were surely amused, but not antagonistic. Which was a big relief.
shoot progressed, the unit even felt emotionally for the characters. Especially
the rather ugly fight scene between the two drag queens where they dredge
out each other's personal lives ruthlessly. There was a stunned silence as
some of the really sluttish dialogues were enacted - "Bibbo: You sleep
with every Tom-Dick & Harry!
Shabbo: Slut, you only roll with stars! Be it dancers or extras, you've tried them all. At this age, can't hook anyone so grapes are sour! Bibbo: Grapes or shriveled raisins you still have your fill!" - The light boys and the spot boys were dumb-stuck!
When we shot the 'mujhra' (an Indian classical dance), people gathered from nearby bunglows too to watch this amazingly graceful man perform as a sensuous woman. The location attendant, an old woman, was the most touched of all. She even had tears when we packed up the shoot. She said it was the most unusual shooting she had witnessed. She also insisted we take a picture of her with the unit, because she felt it was the best unit she had worked with.
These were our experiences as far as people's reaction were concerned. As for production detailing, with our shoestring budget and the shoes were baby-sized! We had to enlist the help of a lot of our friends once again. A well-known Bollywood costume designer lent us a lot of his dancers' costumes with all glitter and sequins. He also gave us a gold cloth of 50 metres that our art director used creatively to make a Queen's Boudoir! Another 35 metre cloth of red lace was given with explicit instruction not to cut it and it took quite a lot of ingenuity on part of the art director to drape it as a mosquito net above the Queen's bed. And that really added to the camp character of a queen's bedroom.
Our executive producer chipped in with transport facilities as well as getting the party crowd for the cabaret. (Not many would dare participate in a shoot where they will be seduced by a drag queen!)
Post-production was another experience. The editor was asked to edit the gay seduction scenes as if he was editing a heterosexual one. He had to also edit the shower sequence with a male-gaze point of view! The music director was in a dilemma - the drag queens are men acting as woman. Are their emotions masculine or feminine or a mix of both?! Finding the right instruments for the characters as well as a fusion of Indian and western themes was a skilful task which he handled adeptly.
To sum it all up, what sounded like a mountain actually turned out to be a molehill. A rather uphill journey was surprisingly navigated smoothly; mainly thanks to all those who offered their support, co-operation and help. And some who even chipped in with monetary support.
Project 'The Pink Mirror' couldn't have been rosier!
~ Saagar Gupta
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