Celina Jaitley, who has always been supportive of the LGBT community’s rights was at the UN (United Nations) Headquarters, USA, where she launched a Bollywood-style UN video about homosexuality set against the backdrop of a traditional Indian family. We got in touch with Ms Jaitley and she spoke to us about her new video, her comeback on the silver screen and much more. Excerpts from the conversation…
You have been supporting the rights of the LGBT community in India for quite a long time now, do you see a change in the attitude of people of India?
The thing in India is that most people do not understand what being "gay" is all about. I sincerely believe good awareness about the queer community would make a lot of difference. There are baba's and yogi's who claim to cure people of homosexuality. Change is constantly taking place .However, non-biased education about the true face of homosexuality is the only thing that may give people a better insight into the LGBT community world.
There is still a lack of understanding about the LGBT community. The biggest block is that, in India the society is not ready to educate themselves about homosexuality and its acceptance on any level. Reasons could be anything from religious to sheer ignorance. Whether it was the suicide of the Aligarh Muslim University professor after being humiliated and forced to resign after having discovered that he was having consensual sex with another same sex adult or when an esteemed institute like IIT (Hyderabad) management sacked gay rights activist and faculty member Ashley Tellis, apparently discomfited by his sexual orientation. The academic, with around 20 years of experience, was shown the door after having been with the institute for less than a year or when my own Transgender friend Laxmi Tripathi was thrown out of Bombay Gymkhana just because she is from the transgender community. Incidents like this instead of changing mindsets do not seem to have any influence upon the mindsets of people in India due to preconceived notions set by dhongi babas and yogis in their minds and to top it all section 377 takes away the right to life for LGBT community guaranteed by the constitution of India to all citizens of the world’s largest democracy.
You have made your musical debut by crooning Lata Mangeshkar's upbeat number, Uthe Sabke Qadam in the video titled The Welcome, which portrays homosexuality openly in a traditional Indian family setting. Why didn't you consider playback singing earlier?
I never intended to do playback but was always keen on exploring the recording artist aspect of myself. Cinema however always kept me too busy to delve into it further. However, my passion for human rights made me raise my voice in the universal language of music, and thanks to all of you making it such a tremendous success. I am looking forward to using my music to reach out to people.
You have a very beautiful voice. If some singing offers come your way, would you take them up?
Yes, I have already signed a record deal with a leading Indian music company.
Will we see you going the Priyanka Chopra way?
Priyanka is a very talented artist, she was one of my mentors during Miss India days as well as she won the year prior to me. I love the fact that she continues to explore every aspect of her talent. Life is too short to be bothered by what people may think of you and I believe in that too.
Imran Khan is also supporting this cause with you. How is he as a person?
Working with Imran for the launch of The Welcome for the first time made me realize that "yes" there are men in the industry who definitely care about human rights and are secure enough about their masculinity to come up and stand up for what is right. It takes a real man to come forward and support a controversial issue like this and Imran's support is truly elating and hopefully it will set an example for others. Imran is not only a good actor but also an intelligent man who has his head on his shoulders.
Recently the Supreme Court of India recognised transgender people as a third gender. How do you feel?
The transgender ruling of April 2014 has given me and many others who stand up for LGBT rights, a cause for optimism. I hope that this ruling will make the SC revisit its decision on homosexuality. Hope is stronger than fear and I am a staunch believer of Mahatma Gandhi's principles of keeping faith, to continue with the battle of Swaraj with determination. While we may not be able to instantly change laws, we can work vehemently towards changing attitudes. Biggest revolutions begin in a person’s mind and if we can change polluted mindsets the battle is half won. People with gay tendencies cannot be held against the order of nature.
The high court had removed an archaic law, which is both repressive and unjust that infringed on basic human rights enshrined in our constitution. I sincerely hope the bench will allow the hearing of the curative petition and the Supreme Court will uphold the constitutional guarantee of life and liberty to all citizens of India including those affected directly by the judgment.
We recently came across a report that said you had an unpleasant experience on a flight from Dubai to the US. Is it true?
Yes it was very unfortunate. Mumbai-Dubai was the sector on my way to New York and the incident was thankfully witnessed by many on the flight. People always blame an actor first for an incident like this because people always have preconceived notions. The matter of fact is, while most of the time we have the good fortune of exemplary fabulous treatment wherever we go, there are always some odd people who go out of their way to humiliate and misbehave and get a reaction from us just to feel better about themselves.
You have been missing from the silver screen since a long time. Did you miss being on the 70 mm?
I was not missing I was just on a much awaited sabbatical and I have twin sons to prove that. Haha! If a male actor takes a break for 2 years, it is considered as ‘preparation.’ However, if a female actor takes a natural sabbatical then everyone starts saying things like, “Oh now you need to make a comeback”.
Are you doing No Entry Mein Entry? Have you begun shooting for it and what will be your role in the film?
I am truly looking forward to the film whenever it commences shooting.
Any plans to don a director or producer's hat, considering that now you are not just an actor but also a singer?
Ha ha! Thanks so much but I feel I have too much on my plate right now. Maybe in the future who knows... Subhashji (Ghai) always told me 'Celina you are a good actor who has done a lot of wrong films but you will be a very good director should you choose to do so.' So first I have to prove myself with my real talents as an actor with the right choice of films and then maybe Subhashji’s words will come true.
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