As an actor from New Delhi, Shashank Arora is no stranger to the ever-changing world of Bollywood. His most recent film, The Elder One (Moothon), is a powerful drama that pushes the boundaries of Indian Cinema, as it follows the life of a transgender person, portrays same-sex love, and is narrated in both Malayalam and Hindi. HoMA’s Honolulu Bollywood Film Festival closes with this celebratory film and will hold a special Q&A session with Arora following the last two screenings. We had the chance to chat with Arora about his experience in this film. The interview has been edited for content and clarity.
What was the most challenging aspect of your role as the villain in Moothon?
As an actor you break down your character into their various components (physicality, intellect, emotions, tonalities, needs) and rebuild them with bits of you, it sounds cruder than it actually is. Salim is a street thief from Mumbai, I’m a filmmaker born in New Delhi. These cities are from completely different regions in India. Their language/culture, the socio-economic conditions between them and within them differ vastly as well. These factors play a part in the varying behavior of their residents. Apart from these surficial differences which one can reconcile with some practical work, Salim was a difficult character to internalize. His motives, actions, and world, were alien to me. He kidnaps children for a living and doesn’t know any better due to the environment around him. It doesn’t get much worse. For me, it took a lot of time to empathize with him and understand his being, because we cannot judge the characters we play and the environments within which they exist, at least not while we create them. It was a tough film to make for me but a lot of fun as well. I learned lots about a part of my own country I knew nothing about, Kamathipura.
As the writer and performer for one of the most remarkable songs in the film, what was your process in creating “Bikhre (Love Song)”?
That’s very kind of you. “Bikhre” was something I created years ago. The word in Hindi means “broken.” It was a lullaby I’d use to comfort myself and was even more special because my mother suggested a part of the lyrics. We were shooting for Moothon in Kerala when I happened to be playing the song in the trailer and Geethu walked in. She said, “I need this song in the film,” and I agreed to it. It’s as simple as that. I don’t have a process to create music yet. I need to learn much more as a composer and maybe I’ll arrive at a certain workflow. It’s very impulsive at this stage. Hopefully, I’ll make more time for music this year.
With Moothon being the first movie in mainstream Malayalam cinema history to portray same-sex love, do you think there’s a push to show these previously underrepresented voices in Malayalam Cinema, and in mainstream Indian Cinema?
I’m not sure there is a push, but we are witnesses to a gradual and necessary change. I hope to be a part of such projects which push boundaries in a direction that sensitizes our audience towards many of these issues further. Cinema is an essential tool for change. It might not be an immediate catalyst, but the medium itself can be used to cast light upon the real problems plaguing us a species.
Do you think film could potentially make an impact on the current societal climate of India?
Certainly. That’s what images do, they affect us. All art does, and vice versa. Our societal climate influences the cinema created in return. It’s an ever-evolving cyclical process. It’s a beautiful complication. But cinema is only a hundred or so years old, and we are still articulating our understanding of it.
Concerning the film and your presence at a Q&A session at HoMA, what are you particularly excited to share with the Hawai‘i community?
It’s an honor that our film has been invited by HoMA! I really look forward to having a conversation about our film, cinema, and art in general as well. I can’t wait to hear the response and also learn much from the Hawai‘i community! See you soon!
For more information about The Elder One (Moothon) and the special post-screening Q&A with Shashank Arora, visit our website.