‘For me, anyone’s sexual orientation is a non-issue’
Actress-model Bani J talks about playing the role of a bisexual character in the recently released webseries Four More Shots Please!
Tracing the lives of four friends who regularly meet at a bar to vent their frustrations of being a modern woman in a rather hypocritical society, Amazon Prime’s new show Four More Shots Please! stars Maanvi Gagroo, Kirti Kulhari, Sayani Gupta and Bani J. Reflecting the urban, millennial Indian woman’s gaze, the series is a realistic portrayal of what it is like to be in a country caught in a constant battle between the traditional and modern, to be a thinking woman, to be free in a country caught up in shackles and to be honest in a country that thrives on hypocrisy.
Bani J, who shot to fame participating in famous reality shows like Roadies and Bigg Boss, has signed projects far and few. She has dabbled in the South film industry where she acted in a Telugu film called Thikka. Her fans have jumped with joy watching her appearance in music videos. She starred in Navv Inder’s Att Tere Yaar and a blink-and-miss stint in Yo Yo Honey Singh’s Raat Jashan Di. Last year, she came out with an original music video in which she confronted internet trolls that mock her for being manly, having many tattoos and everything that prevents her from fitting into the conventional idea of being an ‘Indian woman’.
In the webseries Four More Shots Please! she is playing the role of a bisexual trying to figure out love and relationships. “I loved everything about the script. It was extremely well written. When the writers (Rangita Pritish Nandy and Ishita Moitra) met me and pitched the show, I really enjoyed seeing the way they were excited about creating a series like this and how they told me about their vision. Their enthusiasm caught on and I wanted to be a part of it,” says the fitness enthusiast.
While most of the time, characters that belong to the LGBTQ+ community are painted in stereotypical colours, Bani’s role as the carefree badass Umang is refreshingly real. “This character needs to be seen and heard, so I played her with honesty. In fact, only when I agreed to do the role and I was cast that we sat with the writers and re-wrote the character for me. I’m very lucky because there was very little work for me to do in terms of thinking or feeling in a different way in the character. Mine was the only character that was written post the casting. I didn’t have to second guess or overthink anything when it came to the decisions that Umang was making in her life or why she was doing what she was doing. I was clear about where she was coming from, and where she was headed,” she says.
What interests Bani the most is how her character deals with people, relationships, love, and her questions about these topics. “Umang is always surprised with why people don’t accept her the way she accepts them, specially in terms of romantic relationships,” she says.
While the conversation of different people having different sexual orientations, and why this should not be anyone else’s business, has a long way to go, Bani is hopeful that characters such as Umang will help facilitate it further.
“India is always referred to as a ‘developing’ Third World country, not just a Third World country. As much as I would love to believe that we are really embodying the word ‘developing’, I hope that it is also extended to our thoughts, our processing, and our accepting of other people, no matter what their sexual orientation is. For me, anyone’s sexual orientation is a non-issue, but I understand that many people are brought up with a miseducation and just don’t know enough about it,” says she.
The series has been produced by Pritish Nandy Communications and directed by Anu Menon who has worked on touching films like Waiting, starring Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin.
There has been a surge in women-centric content produced by the Indian entertainment industry. Be it shows like Girliyapa and The Trip, or films like Tumhari Sulu, Angry Indian Goddesses, Lipstick Under My Burkha andVeere Di Wedding, Indian audiences are open to the idea of content without a king and with queens instead.
About the surge of women-centric shows and movies in recent times, and what kind of an impact it will have on the audiences, she says, “I can’t generalise and tell you what effect this will have on the general public because I don’t know. But for me, honestly speaking, I find it very funny how people are calling all this content ‘women-centric’. It’s just because all the shows or films that came out before were based on a male lead, which we considered to be the norm,” she says, adding, “I think it’s absolutely wonderful that this kind of content is being made. We need to have women’s voices heard. Our stories need to be seen to know where we are coming from and it’s extremely important, specially for men, to understand us since we are known as the you-can-love-us-but-don’t-try-to-understand-us sex,” says Bani who will be shooting for another webseries in February-March.
She is also working on two of her own projects for her apparel label. Besides, she is using her Twitter handle to get in touch with her fans and asking them what they would like to see her do next — host a podcast or make some videos. She even invites her fans to write to her on the topics they would like to see her discuss through her work.
While she hasn’t decided on how to go about broadcasting a podcast yet, she reveals that she is currently working on some video content which she will be uploading online soon.
What else is in store? “Lots of lifting and lots of gains,” she ends.