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

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - NEWS - By Ananya Ghosh Photos shot ex­clu­sively for HTBrunch by Prab­hat Shetty

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.”

OPEN SPA­CES

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.”

BABY QUES­TIONS

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.”

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