TWO TIMES ONE
SURPRISED THAT THEY ARE STILL MARRIED AFTER 10 YEARS, INDIVIDUAL-MINDED FILMMAKERS GAURI SHINDE AND R BALKI ARE REDEFINING THE MODERN INDIAN RELATIONSHIP
G auri Shinde and R Balki are two of the most interesting directors in Bollywood today. They are also probably the busiest, which might explain why it took us a whole year to get them together for an interview. But Gauri reveals the real reason behind the delays: “I am not fond of ‘couple interviews’. I don’t want to be bracketed as his wife. We are two very different individuals and I prefer to be treated as that.”
Adds Balki, breaking into laughter: “In fact, you can call us the ‘Accidental Couple’. See, I even gave you a headline there!”
Gauri may fear being overshadowed by her husband in a couple interview – women are somehow always relegated to the background – but it’s precisely their individualism as a pair that makes them perfect for an interac- tion of this sort. Because Gauri and Balki fly in the face of received wisdom: they thrive as a couple because of their individuality, not despite it.
MRS AND MR
She is a Marathi mulgi from Pune who worked in the films department of Lowe Lintas (an ad agency) in Mumbai. He is a Tamilian who had just moved to Mumbai from Bengaluru in 2000 as the agency’s national creative director. They met in the office lift and fell in love. Or at least one half of them did.
“I was instantly attracted to her,” claims Balki. “But it was when we started working together that I got interested. From day one, she was someone I could talk to.”
For Gauri, Balki was just the new creative director everybody was talking about. “I didn’t have any interest in bonding with him. In fact, before I met him at the office, I had seen him on a magazine cover where he was, for some strange reason, sitting on a basketball,” she laughs. “I remember smirking at that cover. To even think that I would eventually marry that guy still feels unreal!” she guffaws.
Still, as time passed, they found themselves dating each other. “We had similar tastes, at least on a macro level, but it would not be totally honest if we said that movies brought us together,” says Balki. “On our first date, we watched Dushman (1998) and Zubeidaa (2001) back to back. Movies were just an excuse to spend more time together.”
“But we do love movie marathons. We went to the Venice Film Festival to do just that!” Gauri chips in.
In 2007, the same year Balki made his Bollywood debut with CheeniKum, he and Gauri got married. Not because they particularly wanted
WE HAVE ACTUALLY SPENT A DECADE AS A MARRIED COUPLE AND NEVER FELT THE NEED TO ‘UNMARRY’! -GAURI SHINDE
to, but because all their friends were marrying, and their parents pushed for it.
“You can call it a moment of weakness when we succumbed to societal pressure,” says Balki. “But just as there was no pressing need to marry, there wasn’t any to not marry either. We weren’t able to get away from each other. We’d take off, but eventually come back to each other. So I thought, why not?”
“Now, we have actually spent a decade as a married couple and never felt the need to ‘unmarry’!” laughs Gauri. “What’s kept me in this marriage is that I don’t feel married. If I felt that, I’d have felt suffocated and looked for a way out. When you are married, you burden each other with expectations, duties, responsibilities…I don’t have those pressures.”
Balki is less cynical about marriage as an institution. “Marriage in itself is never claustrophobic,” he says. “People in it tend to make it so by putting down rules for each other.”
Gauri and Balki cherish their individuality as much as they cherish each other’s. To Gauri, this verse by poet Kahlil Gibran sums up their relationship: Lettherebe spaces in your togetherness /… And stand together, yet not too neartogether:/Forthepillarsof the temple stand apart ,/ And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’ s shadow.
“I respect her space and she respects mine,” says Balki. Gauri interjects, “But sometimes I do intrude! And he lets me!”
Maybe their nine-year age gap works in their favour. “He is older, but I am wiser. He is an early bloomer and I am a late bloomer. So it works out fine for us,” says Gauri. This explains why Gauri has been slow with her movies. While the recently released Padman (2018) is Balki’s fifth film, Gauri has just done two so far. “I always wanted to make movies, but seeing him slog on his first, I got a bit nervous. It took a lot of pushing from him for me to eventually write a draft of
EnglishVinglish (2012).” Even the films they make reflect their individuality. “Although we have similar sensibilities, the difference is in the approach,” says Balki. “While I tend to take up a big idea or an issue and try to simplify it into a small little film, Gauri takes up a small little idea, or a nuance of an emotion, and makes it into a big film. If I am asked to pick one movie that I love, I would choose her
EnglishVinglish over my movies.” They often disagree as well. “Even when we are doing our own films, the other one is always involved in the process. When it comes to movies, it is not about his feelings or mine, it is about the movie,” says Gauri.
WHO’S THE HERO?
If the couple sounds too good to be true, be aware that their marriage has evolved over time. “Initially, I would do all things a married woman is supposed to, my life became about his life. But slowly, I realised that my ‘me’ was getting lost in the attempt become an ‘us’. It took some time to come to this mental space where we both are happy being ourselves,” says Gauri.
She points out that it is very important for every person, especially women, to find their own passion and calling. “You have to be the hero of your life. That makes a world of difference,” she says. Adds Balki, “It is when you are individually happy that you can be happy together.” Having said all that, it isn’t as though Gauri and Balki have made an effort to maintain their individuality; each just happens to be strong in her or his own right. “It is the way we both are,” smiles Gauri.
“We have no clue how we are surviving as a married couple. We defy all the rules that make any conventional couple. We watch films together, we are raising two cats together, and that’s all that we have in common!” adds Balki.
They both love movies, but while Balki can easily switch from an Iranian movie to a Rowdy
Rathore, Gauri is a little more discerning in her choices. They both love to eat out, but Balki is a vegetarian and Gauri is a carnivore. They both love to travel, but she loves to wander around, and Balki needs specific things to do.
Gauri often does solo trips, but Balki rarely travels alone and even if he does, he misses her. “She loves
I DON’T UNDERSTAND WHy WE NEED TO HAvE A CHILD. WHy ARE WE HELL-BENT ON SEEING A SMALLER vERSION OF OURSELvES? -R BALK I
it when she is on a holiday and I am missing her, and she also loves it when I am away and missing her,” laughs Balki. “I might travel the world on my own, but he is the person I always come back to. He is my best friend, and my entire family. He is home!” says Gauri.
I MIGHT TRAVEL THE WORLD ON MY OWN, BUT HE IS THE PERSON I ALWAYS COME BACK TO... HE IS HOME! -GAURI SHINDE
“I don’t understand myself properly. But I really understand Gauri,” says Balki. “If I’m thinking about a person, it is usually her. To me, love is when you choose to invest time and emotions in a person. A house becomes a home when you invest your emotions in it.”
One thing both Gauri and Balki were certain about before marrying was that there’d be no offspring. “I really don’t understand why we need to have a child,” says Balki. “Why are we so hell-bent on seeing a smaller version of ourselves? Also, although I love kids, to become parents you need to be selfless. And I think maybe intrinsically I am a selfish person…”
“On the contrary, I think you are more selfless than most parents I know,” says Gauri. “You love your nieces and nephews so much…that is you being selfless!”
“Maybe, it is not about being selfish or selfless,” muses Balki. “It is just that I never had the urge to have my own kids. I am open to the idea of adopting. But the penny has to drop.”
Gauri also loves children and is immensely attached to the kids of her friends and her two brothers. Yet, she is averse to the idea of having her own biological child. She says, “I don’t have the courage to bring a baby into this world. Having a kid would be like having a part of my heart living outside my body. I am too paranoid for that. To see your child suffer even a tiny bit requires a crazy amount of strength. Hats off to those parents who do this well. I envy their courage.”