Haddi, directed by Akshat Ajay Sharma, sees Nawazuddin Siddiqui in the role of a transgender person. The first look from the film garnered a lot of attention when it was first released. The actor plays the titular character who relocates from Allahabad to Delhi and joins a transgender community in the city. There he meets gangster-turned-politician Pramod Ahlawat, who is played by filmmaker Anurag Kashyap. Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub plays Nawazuddin’s husband in the film. (Also read: Ila Arun: Nawazuddin Siddiqui has been like a son to me but when I saw him on sets of Haddi…)
Ahead of the release of the film on ZEE5, cast members Anurag Kashyap and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub joined director Akshat Ajay Sharma for an exclusive chat with us to talk about Haddi and the conversation about trans representation on screen. Excerpts:
I want to start by asking Akshat about Haddi. Tell me about how you conceived the film and its characters.
I was working on Mukkabaaz. It was during post-production, and the sound work was happening in lower Parel. I used to travel from lower Parel to Andheri, where I live. There, for the first time in my life, I saw prostitutes. I was keen on knowing more about them. This is where my co-writer (Adamya Sharma) and my then flatmate came to the picture and told me that they are pickup boys. So be very careful. That is how I was intrigued by the idea that why would men cross dress to do this. We researched further and found out that almost 99% of them had nothing to do with the LGBTQ+ community. They were just using this disguise to keep the police and the regular public away. So that is where we found the one core world of Haddi.
The second world was something that I was very much aware of… the kinnar community in our country. They have their own culture, they have their own society.. and they have been existing with us for the longest period of time. They are mentioned in our religious scriptures. It goes that far back. So there was this beautiful contrasts in both these worlds. That is what sort of pushed us to write something. That is how Haddi came into the picture.
Anurag and Zeeshan, how did you both respond to the script when it came to you?
Anurag: First I heard the script then he said the shooting will begin on this day and you come!
Akshat: (laughs) As brief as that? He refused the script first and directly asked when is the shooting!
Anurag: Zeeshan will tell you how he found the script!
Zeeshan: I loved the script. Mazaa aa gaya! Actually that I am still here now at the end of all that has happened is fortunate! In the beginning there was still a dilemma whether I would be able to do it or not. There was some issue with dates. There was a lot of to-and-fro but I think it was meant to happen. But I had loved the script and had told him in the beginning that someone making a film on this idea and exploring the world is in itself commendable. I even told the makers that I would have liked to be part of this film and left it twice… but it all worked out by the end.
My next question is for Anurag, who is so much fun to watch as Pramod Ahlawat. Tell me, is there a different approach for you as an actor where the director in you takes a backseat?
First of all, I am a director. I am not an actor. There is no ambition to have a career as an actor. I had wholly one need to be there, to meet the expectation of the director. Because I had not read the script before and now also its the same. So, my guide was Akshat and I was his puppet. Whatever he told me to do, I did and if he is happy, I am happy. So I only work like that, even when I direct I like to push my actors.. I don’t tell them what to do but I tell them what not to do. Eventually the director knows what kind of a film is being made. And people think another film is being made. They get it when they see the film, but the director does not get that shock. I kept no qualms on that here. He also knows me as a person so he kept pushing my buttons. He made me do a lot of things that I would never attempt in normal life. I realized later that this is how he sees me actually! (laughs) In his life, I am Pramod Ahlawat!
There is also a certain conversation around how only trans actors should be playing trans characters on screen. As a team, what is your opinion on this ?
Anurag : The conversation has just began. Examples like Ghoomer and Made in Heaven have just released… where trans actors are playing trans characters. There is also a two-sided responsibility that comes to play here. When films started women were not allowed to act in movies, so men used to play their parts instead. Theatres also followed the same way. The dance performances that we used to have.. which were called ‘launda naach’ there men used to play the parts of women and dance.
Then women started playing women roles. It is a transition that occurs with time. Now, the conversation has begun. Six years ago, when I was doing Sacred Games, for the part of Kukoo… when we were reaching out to trans actors they were not ready to play the role. They did not want out through their work and we were unable to decide if the role would be fit for a man or a woman. Then, this conversation had not begun, unlike now.
The conversation also entails responsibility. You cannot cast just for the sake of representation and then you realize that they cannot even perform. That is a problem too. Now the trans actors who want to be actors, they also need to go to the acting workshops and schools to become incredible actors. So its very important first that when you are an actor on screen you have to first be an actor… then comes the gender. Where has your craft reached, which level as an actor you are… that matters as well. The conversation is very valid, but the possibility lies both sides. Like for me, if I am putting a trans character on screen, I want that character to come out strongly. If a trans actor can give me that, I will do that very well. But if the trans actor just cannot crack it, I will probably go to someone else for that part.
Akshat, would you like to add anything to this point?
Totally agree with what Anurag Sir has just said. But at the same time you also have to understand that as a maker if I have to go with something like this, for the lack of a better word- experimental, or a subject that has not been really touched upon a lot… so for that I will go to a producer or a studio, I will also have to justify the budgets and the finances.
Anurag (interrupts) : Not just that. In the sense if you see Haddi, it is an amalgamation of all representations. So there are kinnar actors in the film… there are also trans actors in the film. But for the main role, which requires so much more based on the story, I think Nawaz is absolutely perfect casting. You can’t take that away from him and the film. When you see the film you will not question it.
Haddi releases on ZEE5 on September 7.