Anshuman Jha on Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele: My aim was to be sensible and responsible
The actor talks about playing a gay character in Harish Vyas’s new film, which is out on Disney+ Hotstar
Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele was released on Disney+ Hotstar on May 9. It happens to be among the few Indian films with LGBTQ+ protagonists. The film, which stars Anshuman Jha and Zareen Khan as its leads, revolves around a gay man and a lesbian woman who go on a road trip to have life-changing experiences. “The single biggest goal of this film was to convey the need for acceptance and respect beyond any social constructs of gender and sexuality,” Anshuman says.
Before this release, Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele had its world premiere at the HBO South Asian International Film Festival in New York, where it won the Audience Choice Award. Anshuman feels gratified that the film was accepted with open arms in a city that has the highest LGBTQ+ population. “The film festival experience was encouraging. It showed us we have made a film that connects with the audience,” says Anshuman, who cherishes the experience of audience interactions.
Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele is directed by Harish Vyas, whose earlier film Angrezi Mein Kehte Hai garnered unanimous critical acclaim. “I feel fortunate that Harish chose me for the role of Veer,” says Anshuman. He understands the challenges in portraying a gay character in the Indian landscape. In the history of Indian cinema, queer characters are largely used as comic relief or caricatures. “Our film’s motive is to humanise the character and to convey the central theme - that ‘Love is Love’.” So, Anshuman found it to be his duty to be respectful and sensible while handling this role.
While the film deals with the characters beyond gender binaries, Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele is essentially a travel film. From Meerut to Chandigarh, then Delhi to Dharmshala and Palanpur, there was a lot of road travel involved in the shoot. “I love being on a film set and I truly believe that the kind of energy you have on set, it reflects in the work you do and what you see on the screen,” says Anshuman while speaking about the film’s youthful tone. He applauds director Harish Vyas for the same.
“Harish is a fine art graduate and a painter. So he has a way of speaking with visuals,” Anshuman says about the filmmaker, with whom he has frequently collaborated. He mentions the pure connection they have as actor-director where they can openly communicate and discuss the possibilities and scope of the role. “There is no ego or arguing between us.”
Starting with the prolific Dibakar Banerjee over a decade ago, the actor has created a niche of his own. Under the banner of First Ray Films, Hum Bhi Akele Tum Bhi Akele is Anshuman’s sophomore feature as a producer. “I consider it to be a thankless job,” he admits about his added responsibility. “I back the kind of films that I would like to watch,” says Anshuman, who also makes sure that as an actor, he is doing a fulfilling job. “I hope people remember my character Veer more than the actor Anshuman. I wish the character to be eternal for the audience,” adds the actor who has over 15 years of stage experience.
Speaking about what he looks for while choosing a role, Anshuman says, “Whether it is a slapstick comedy or a particularly serious topic, it does not make much difference to me as long as the role gives me a chance to try something different.”
When we look at Anshuman’s filmography, we find an interesting range of subjects that generally fall under the umbrella of socially-conscious cinema. Be it Love Sex Aur Dhoka, No Fathers in Kashmir, or Yeh Hai Bakrapur, he has constantly been part of projects that deal with sensitive topics. “All of us are results of our conditioning and culture. I, for one, like to be part of the projects that make people have meaningful conversations that they generally tend to avoid.” And while art cannot necessarily change society, he believes that as an artist, one can surely try.