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No Fear No Favour

‘Gehraiyaan’ intimacy director Dar Gai reveals how she got Deepika, Siddhant comfortable during their intimate scenes.

Written by Shivangi Chawla

Shakun Batra’s film Gehraiyaan, starring Deepika Padukone, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Ananya Panday, and Dhairya Karwa, is making waves even before its release. The film puts the spotlight on modern relationships, bringing forth nuanced and complex characters. Gehraiyaan also explores sexuality and intimacy in a manner that is largely unchartered territory for Bollywood. Intimacy director, Dar Gai, explains how she got the actors comfortable before they could shoot bold scenes.

Gai questions the word bold itself and says, “I think we need to define what is bold, what is brave to do something, and what is not brave. You have your own preferences that will define what is good for you.” She added, “One of my main tasks was to make sure that all of us were on the same page, and all of us understand the world that we are entering, and to make sure everything is respected. We have to create a world where everyone is comfortable.

Dar strikes a parallel with dancing as well, lays down the rules for intimacy direction, and elaborates on how the actor’s comfort is key, more than anything else. “With progress on mental health, we realize that there are so many different things that can bother us as a person. There are also so many different techniques that we can explore to make us feel comfortable. Intimacy direction is more like choreography—you have to come on stage and perform. You’re always uncomfortable and you don’t know what will happen, you don’t know if your body will be ready,” she says.

Dar explains the importance of workshops before they can begin shooting a film, and the necessity for the actors to create their own safe zone with each other. “In dance, it is rehearsals, intimacy direction has the same rules — including workshops, that will make you comfortable with your own mind and body. We need to be able to prepare our actors to create a safe zone for themselves, and when the partner can come closer and closer to them.

There are a series of steps, she says. Before establishing physical contact, mental connections are crucial. “Depending on what kind of chemistry you would have with your partner, The first step would be explaining to the actress, what is the plan of action. The second stage is to understand them, what their fears are, and on the basis of that, craft workshops. When I started on my first day, we did generic exercises to understand who are we. And then understanding, what proximity we have with each other, and how much we can push each other. And then I understand if we are ready for a physical workshop, or we should work on our mental connections.”

She says it is unethical for the actors to ever be forced into doing something that they don’t want to do. “You have different levels—intimacy coach, intimacy co-ordinator, who discusses the list of things with them, what they’re comfortable with. And then I will design what they’re comfortable with. If I know that they don’t want to do something, I can’t force them. That’s not how intimacy direction works, apart from the fact that it’s not ethical, the audience won’t relate to them.”

Talking about Gehraiyaan, Dar was impressed with the level of efficiency on the sets, and that everyone was very respectful. “The people who I work with, Shakun, they were the most respectful, the people knew what they were doing. There was a very high level of efficiency.”  Can the same be expected from other Bollywood films? She answers, “I can’t say for other films, but I see a new generation of directors, and producers, who believe in the safety of the actors and the crew on the set.”

Asked if there are mental health professionals on sets to counsel the actors as well, Dar says, “It depends on the project, some don’t need it. If they need it, the production will provide it. It all depends on what the actors themselves require.”

Dar says that there was a lot of ‘equality’ on the sets of Gehraiyaan, and everyone was keen to understand new techniques. “Shakun and I really respect the craft of workshops and what they do for the actresses. Before the shoot, we conducted workshops, it’s a space for warm-up before a shoot. They give you a comfortable space to explore with the actors. There was equality, you never felt that someone had more or less talent. Everyone was very curious to explore new techniques that helped them expand themselves. It’s what I look for in actors.”

It’s not an easy task to bring the actors out of their comfort zone, but Dar has a different way of looking at it. For her, she wants to bring them back into that safe space. “What’s interesting is, it is important to bring them into a comfort zone and to find the way home. We’re always talking about going outside, and pushing themselves—but we need to bring the actors home, where they feel loved. We develop psychological exercises for them to come back.”

 Dar explains how the numerous steps are taken to get the tricky scenes correct, and it involves doing exercises that the actors had been comfortable with. “Just before the complicated scene if something is not going right, we will do those exercises again—it can be even standing next to each other, it helps to create unique energy on screen. Breathing together, holding each other’s hands, can I express fear, excitement, and tenderness through one simple touch? Can an entire dialogue communication happen through eye contact? Can we go through the entire scene we were supposed to shoot, just by looking at each other? We play it in our heads, by feeling it and acting it—but only by looking at each other.”

Dar modestly says that the film would have been just the same without her. “This film would have been beautiful with me or without me. The only difference maybe was that the process of familiarity would be faster, the actors are incredible. Shakun is a skillful director, the outcome would be the same. But maybe what helped is how we achieved that.”

Dar recalls a funny incident from the sets, “I was not on the set and they were shooting another scene. Shakun came laughing and asked, ‘Where have you been?’ I said it wasn’t my scene. They said they were shooting a kissing scene, suddenly Siddhant and Deepika started shouting ‘Dar, Dar! Where is Dar, we can’t kiss without her!’ Shakun laughed and said that I have to come for all the kissing scenes because they wanted to do the exercises again. It was a joke, very funny, and very sweet. Shakun also trusted the intimacy director on set, and I haven’t dictated anything that I should do or not do, and I was completely free.”

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