Film and theatre actor Anshuman Jha, who debuted in Bollywood with Dibakar Banerjee’s Love, Sex Aur Dhoka (2010) and went on to do offbeat films like Yeh Hai Bakrapur (2014), Chauranga (2014), Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain (2017) and No Fathers In Kashmir (2019), is thrilled. His new film Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele (HBATBA), directed by Harish Vyas, has bagged the Best Film Audience Choice Award at the HBO South Asian International Film Festival at its World Premiere in New York City. Excerpts from a chat: You have done several impressive offbeat films, but a role like this must have a different challenge. Tell us about your part and prep for the film?
HBATBA is India’s first LGBTQIA film after the Supreme Court’s landmark judgement decriminalising homosexuality in 2018. The film revolves around the friendship between a gay man and a lesbian (played by Zareen Khan) as they embark on a road journey. Veer’s role (my character) was offered to many actors before it finally came to me and I am glad they all rejected it (laughs!). I was never hesitant to play a gay character, but everyone around me told me that it' was a bad idea. However, I took it up as a challenge and did a lot of homework. I read up a lot and met people from the community. HBATBA has been an immensely draining yet satisfying experience. We received great appreciation from the LGBTQIA community in New York. And, the best part is, we were voted the winners. That makes me proud. In India, the community has been repressed for long and judged by society. So, my job as a heterosexual man was to portray Veer in the most sensitive manner possible — without playing him in a conventional way (as we have often seen in our cinema) and making a caricature of the character.You have played a variety of characters in your career so far. Which of them do you identify the most with?
Over the years, I have realised that I identify the most with vulnerable characters - on stage and screen. Luckily, I have been offered unconventional roles. In my next, Midnight Delhi, I play real-life serial killer Blademan. I think that even a criminal has a human side to him, and I find portraying that vulnerability challenging. I have never networked for roles and have picked the best from what I was offered.
How was it working with Zareen Khan in HBATBA?
There is a good actor in her, and she must do more roles like this. Our equation and chemistry translated well on screen.Do you think films like HBATBA will change the way LGBTQIA characters are written for our films?
I think that it’s already changing. Shakun Batra did it with Kapoor & Sons (2016), and our film will take it a step further. Harish Vyas has written the two characters (played by Zareen and me) as a celebration of the community. There was a popular line from a Karan Johar film that I grew up on — ‘Pyaar Dosti Hai’. This film is about discovering that love in friendship.You are also turning director in 2020…
Bikas Mishra, who I worked with in Chauranga, has written the script of Lord Curzon Ki Haveli, and we both felt that it would be best if I directed it as I am very close to it. It’s a black comedy and features Tannishtha Chatterjee and Arjun Mathur. Two more leads are yet to be locked. It will roll out in the UK in early 2020.Apart from working on your directorial, what else is on the cards in 2020?
On the personal front, 2019 has been a tough year. My mother is battling cancer, and I have shifted her from Delhi to Mumbai. Hopefully, she will be better soon. For now, I want to cherish every moment with her. Professionally, it’s inspiring to see the kind of work actors like Ranveer Singh, Ayushmann Khurrana, Vicky Kaushal and Vikrant Massey are doing. I also admire Anurag Kashyap and Zoya Akhtar’s work, and hopefully, I will get an opportunity to work with them in 2020.