Film makers have often chosen to make short independent films to tell sensitive human interest stories. An excellent example of this is Baby Steps, a short film about a mother discovering that her son is homosexual. What made this short film popular and immensely watchable was its non-preachy tone and actor Paras Tomar’s Merry Poppins like portrayal of Ishaan, a young man determined to win over his boyfriend’s mother with his easy going charm. In this week’s #DesiMillennial interview Tomar takes us through the process of telling compelling stories about India’s vibrant LGBTQIA community in a manner that is easy on the heart as well as tear ducts.
Paras Tomar is the quintessential Desi Millennial. The journalist, turned anchor, turned actor has over 1,00,000 followers on Instagram and is usually found glued to his phone when not facing the camera. “The number of people who write to me just to get shout-outs is insane,” he exclaims even as he artfully juggles a TV show shoot, this interview and giddy fan girls and boys on social media.
Q) What made you choose to play a gay character in Baby Steps?
A) In all honesty, for those of us working on this film and creating these characters, we never really saw this as a “gay” love story. We just saw it as a love story. If you notice, it isn’t a chest beating mother talking about her son’s sexuality and dealing with his partner. We really wanted to make a point without having to scream it out. For me, the character was just another regular guy with a job and a flatmate, who also happens to be his lover. Which is perhaps why we got so many people telling us that they loved the departure from a campier depiction of “gay” character.
Q) How easy or difficult is it to be taken seriously if you play gay characters? Is it a career killer?
A) I think we’ve crossed that threshold where a gay character is a caricature. It’s the story of men and women and their sexual orientation. If anything at all, it’s got me more recognition as an actor than a lot of other projects. Mainstream cinema and television are moving away from making gay men and women seem like they’re to be used as a breather in a story. Again, a love story is just that… a love story. #LoveIsLove
Q) What kind of research did you do for your role? How did you prepare?
A) Honestly, we didn’t. The hardest part about this film for us was to cast someone as my boyfriend! That was a tough one! We were short of holding a swayamvar for me! Akshay Oberoi was great because his personality is the complete opposite of the character that I play. And that chemistry worked like magic!
Q) Baby Steps examines a mother-son relationship. How easy or difficult is it for millennials to discuss sexuality with people from previous generations, especially in a country like India where even hetero-sexuality is controlled by institutions like arranged marriages?
A) I think the best part about this film is that the actual “coming out” in the film is almost incidental. We don’t harp on it, we don’t go on and on about it. And that’s what we want to graduate to… where coming out shouldn’t just be easy.. it shouldn’t have to be a thing at all.
Q) Voices of dissent are being crushed with impunity these days. Anyone who has an opinion that is not sanctioned by the ‘sanskaar’ brigade, comes under fire, especially on social media. Your thoughts.
A) It would be naive to say everyone is on board with the idea of what was termed as “alternate” sexuality. We’re not as inclusive as a society as we should be. It’s definitely getting better though. In my opinion though, peer pressure is not working to the advantage of the gay community. Because its become so politically incorrect to be a homophobe, I think a lot of people fake acceptance just to not sound prude. Baby Steps, we’ll get there.
Q) You are seen as a more urban, English speaking youth icon. How would you reach out to young people in the heartland?
A) Oddly, a lot of fan mail I get, is from tier 2 towns and cities. They’re happy and excited and thrilled about the fact that we talk about the kind of things we do, with such ease. It’s certainly aspirational for them. Sure, this may not be possible in these towns yet… but I love how so many people have written to me telling me about the fact that they’re making their parents watch this short film and gauging their reaction!
Q) Is there a Human Rights issue/cause about which you feel strongly? What is it and why? How do you plan to contribute?
A) People just need to be kind to another. The human rights issue is that we’re somehow all trying to kill each other, one way or another. If we can just learn to mind our own business and stay happy… that would be awesome! I have started something called the Be Happy Project where I share a happy though or some cheerful news online with the hashtag #TheBeHappyProject. One would imagine that something as simple as waking up with a smile everyday would be most effortless thing in the world, the truth though, is that it’s so easy to get bogged down because of the very first post you see on social media… something which seems so inhuman and unacceptable and yet is being circulated on our digital platforms. The internet is many things, I wanna add a happy dimension to that. I am aware of how my privilege insulates me from a lot of misery. I also know that people who manage to overcome everything despite what comes their way are some of the most incredibly gifted people. I’m hoping with #TheBeHappyProject I can help spread some sunshine online.