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The crazy proliferation of streaming platforms has its fair share of advantages. It means more opportunities for promising talent, lesser dependency on stars to achieve that big box office opening and no fear of the dreaded censor board. No censorship also means no-holds-barred sex scenes that you’ve never seen in our films. Just yesterday, streaming platform MX Player released the trailer of their new show F**K Buddies. There’s plenty on display on the ALT Balaji app as well – take shows called Gandii Baat or XXX for example. The problem is that most of it looks tacky, poorly shot and bordering on sleaze. “I feel that love scenes and horror are the two things that we just haven’t got right. How you shoot it is very important because it’s so easy to make it look raunchy,” says cinematographer Jay Oza, who recently shot Gully Boy and Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven.

But Oza has managed to get it right. Amongst its many strengths, Made In Heaven, created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, has achieved a warmth and tenderness in its intimate scenes that is rare. It’s particularly commendable since a majority of the love scenes are centred around its protagonist Karan (Arjun Mathur) who is gay. “Zoya was very clear that it wasn’t going to be about bodies but showing love. We didn’t want people to cringe. She wanted it to be poetic and visually pleasing to look at. Also we were sure that this should be watched by everyone. It should not be that the moment the scene comes we want to turn it off or fast forward,” says Oza. 

So what did they do differently? We ask Oza, actor Arjun Mathur, the show’s writer and director Alankrita Srivastava and cinematographer John Jacob Payapalli. 

HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE WARMTH AND TENDERNESS IN A LOVE SCENE

JAY OZA: “It’s a lot about how you light it. The first time you see Karan getting physical is when he brings home a guy. After they enter his apartment, the lights are never turned on. The only light we see on them is what filters through the window. I wanted to keep it dark so that you can feel it more than you can see it. Also that feeling of darkness makes the actors feel more comfortable. I didn’t give them any direction or marks. I shot it on my handheld and kept it very fluid. I wanted it to look like how the situation would have actually played out.” 

ARJUN MATHUR: “Loves scenes are so hard to shoot. You’re always nervous when you have to kiss a man. But when I saw this scene on the big screen for the first time I was taken aback by how beautiful it looked. I couldn’t believe it was me. 

I remember the first time Zoya and I discussed these scenes, she spoke to me about this show called Queer As Folk. She mentioned this guy on the show whose name I can’t recall now and said every time he comes on screen, something happens to me, but he only wants to sleep with men. That’s what she wanted. She’s told me women have to fall in love with you and men have to fall in love with you.

They were very particular with casting. There was a scene we shot with one actor and Zoya said ‘I’m going to have to reshoot this. He’s not good’. Zoya didn’t want to tell the actor so she just went through with shooting the scene to not hurt his feelings. But she made sure that everything felt right and you could sense love and comfort between Karan and whoever his partner was.” 

The female gaze is just everything. There is such a strong feminist and nuanced perspective on life through the show. I do feel that it makes a difference. It’s more empathetic – Alankrita Srivastava

ALANKRITA SRIVASTAVA: “Zoya, Reema and I, were very clear that there would be no objectification or titilation. We had decided that we were not going to show nudity. Even though the digital space allows for it, we felt it’s not required.

I’m very proud of that last scene in the finale when Karan and Nawab meet. I knew that for their scenes I wanted tenderness. I needed to show that he’s not been able to feel that sense of homecoming with anyone. It was his most intimate truth that he hadn’t shared even with his best friend Tara. So for that bath tub scene I used red – I wanted it to be warm, comfortable, intimate and not stark. You’ll notice that the earlier love scenes with Karan that were shot in his house had a cooler palette – lots of blues and greys – which is why for the Nawab scene I wanted a deeper colour. It was very designed and there was a lot of attention to detail, you’re not just randomly shooting body parts. 

It think casting also makes a huge difference. Just anyone couldn’t play Nawab. I really wanted Vikrant (Massey) because I knew he would bring warmth and nostalgia.”

JOHN JACOB PAYAPALLI: “I shot the last two episodes with Alankrita. I knew she wont do anything that is exploitative. I also knew that the scene between Arjun and Vikrant Massey in the bathtub had to look very different from all the other hook ups he has had on the show. For me a big inspiration was Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together. I love his lighting and I was very influenced by the way he used it to capture that tenderness and rawness.

WHY ACTORS NEED A COMFORTABLE ENVIRONMENT 

ARJUN MATHUR: “I’m always nervous as hell. By the end of it I just want to go for it and get it over with. I plant my girlfriend’s face on whoever it is and just go for it. On the day we were shooting the most explicit scene, the bit that Vinay Pathak’s character watches, they had given me these skin colour shorts. During one shot they could see too much of it so they cut it further and so the elastic that was holding it was also gone and two of us are just there and everything is hitting just everything!…  It helps when you’re comfortable with your co-actor… when you can both just accept your discomfort.” 

JAY OZA: “If you make your actors feel comfortable, they will do anything for you. Arjun and I are very close friends so we already had that comfort level. And Sobhita (Dhulipala) I had already worked with in Raman Raghav 2.0 where the first scene we shot was a love scene. So she trusted me. 

But Shivani Raghuvanshi (who plays Jazz) was extremely nervous. She had never done this kind of scene before. So in the scene where she sleeps with that mechanic, I enacted her part with the male character and I took her to my camera and I made her sit there. I said if you don’t like it, you tell me what you don’t want to see, and I’ll change it.”

ALANKRITA SRIVASTAVA: “Most importantly, I treated the scenes between the two men with the same sensitivity that I did the other love scenes. In my eyes it was the same. I feel very protective about my actors. They are giving you their soul and it wasn’t like they were boys so we cared less. So you have to shoot on a closed set with just a few crucial people there. That gives the actors a sense of comfort. Another thing is that you can’t make the actors do too many takes.”

I remember the first time Zoya and I discussed these scenes, she spoke to me about this show called Queer As Folk. She mentioned this guy on the show whose name I can’t recall now and said every time he comes on screen, something happens to me, but he only wants to sleep with men – Arjun Mathur

WHY CAMERA ANGLES MATTER

JAY OZA: “The camera angles depend on the character you’re shooting. For Arjun’s character we went up close when he was having sex because he’s openly gay. So he’s not shy about it as compared to someone like Jazz who’s not that open. From where her character comes from, she can’t go to a hotel room and quickly have sex. Also she’s not someone who would be comfortable with any kind of PDA. So for her love scene we wanted to keep a little distance from her and shot it from behind the car and as she gets more comfortable we go closer.”

 DOES THE FEMALE GAZE MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

ARJUN MATHUR: “100 per cent. It’s there in the writing itself. The male perspective is different. It just is. And it comes through in the description of the scene. I recently read a script that was written by a man – there was this scene in a bar and the descriptor read ‘and then the young boys are checking the girl out’. Zoya’s descriptions itself are so thoughtful.”

ALANKRITA SRIVASTAVA: “It changes everything. The female gaze is just everything. There is such a strong feminist and nuanced perspective on life through the show. I do feel that it makes a difference. It’s more empathetic. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why there needs to be more women cinematographers. I have never worked with one but I’m dying to. It’s just never worked out. I’m quite interested to know if it would make a difference.”

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