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“I was nervous; I didn’t know how I would shoot the intimate scenes. I remember speaking to Shakun [Batra, director], and he told me to relax because they had an intimacy department. I had no idea what that was. Just the fact that there was this department made me freak out more because I started wondering what kind of intimate scenes we’d have to shoot,” actor Siddhant Chaturvedi recalls of his first onscreen intimate encounter in Gehraiyaan.
Chaturvedi had become a believer by the time he finished filming. “I think every set that involves intimate scenes should have an intimacy coordinator just to make everyone feel comfortable.”
Within Intimacy Department of Gehraiyaan
Moments of intimacy, whether romantic or violent, have been awkwardly executed at best, and have invited inappropriate behavior at worst, across industries and across the ages. There have been accounts of embarrassment, perplexity, exploitation, and even violence, such as Maria Schneider’s revelations about the famed rape scene in Last Tango in Paris . Schneider had no idea Marlon Brando’s character would use butter as a lubricant before forcing himself on her because the scene was added at the last minute to the original script.
Years later, in 2016, a clip of filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci discussing the sequence resurfaced, generating widespread media attention and prompting fury in Hollywood. Two years later, the #MeToo movement generated even more pressing discussions about the treatment of women on Hollywood sets, prompting a much-needed industry reckoning.
HBO began using an intimacy director on all of its episodes and movies containing personal moments with the series The Deuce [2017-2019]. Scenes involving nudity, simulated sex, or sexual content would be choreographed by this person.
In 2020, intimacy coordinators were included on the credits of 23 Emmy-nominated scripted shows, including Euphoria, Watchmen, and Succession. Closer to home, Batra’s Gehraiyaan, starring Deepika Padukone, Ananya Pandey, and Dhariya Karwa, as well as Chaturvedi, is the first mainstream Bollywood film to feature an intimacy department.
Batra realized that intimacy was an important aspect of this interpersonal drama as he was composing the script. Not only did he want the personal sequences to be unlike anything else the audience had seen before, but he also wanted to make sure his players felt protected. That’s when he hired Dar Gai, a Ukrainian filmmaker working in India, as the intimacy director.
Gai has attempted to show intimacy without concentrating on physicality, and creating chemistry that comes from the deep emotional connection between two actors’ in the feature films [Three and a Half and Namdev Bhau in Search of Silence] and music videos [Prateek Kuhad’s ‘cold/mess’ and Kasoor and Ritviz’s ‘Raahi’] that she has directed in the past. “The idea is to capture the butterflies that you feel in your stomach, and put it on screen”. Along with the intimate scenes in the film, Gai also directed two songs, including ‘Doobey,’ for which a video was recently released.
The Gehraiyaan intimacy department was led by Gai and includes intimacy instructor Neha Vyas and intimacy coordinator [and director’s assistant] Aastha Khanna. Following Batra’s briefing, Gai and his team had to meet with the cast and explain every shot in the intimate situations, including the angles, in great detail.
Dar Gai, the Intimacy Director, and her team discuss the Artistry of Shooting Sex Scenes
“There are things that might sound explicit when said aloud but knowing the angles and the approach helps put the actors’ minds at ease. I can’t just say, ‘And then they kiss passionately’ because passionately can be interpreted differently. If they felt uncomfortable with any shot, even if it was my favorite, I would change it or at least discuss why it made them uncomfortable. And if I had to change it, I’d find a replacement shot they’d be happy with,” she adds.
The seminars were then taught by Vyas, an actor who became interested in intimacy coordination after witnessing the haphazard nature of how these scenes were shot and not having the ability to set boundaries for himself. “I had this realisation that I didn’t want my back to be touched without knowing. Even when I’d tell the director this, I’d be told that it was part of the scene. I didn’t have the agency at that time or an advocate on set who would make them find another way to do the scene,” Vyas explains.
She compares intimacy coaching to how actors are coached for any other scene, but this time it’s for intimacy. “There is setting a language of consent, and helping them realize their boundaries in a workshop so that when they actually do the scenes, there are fewer last-minute surprises,” she adds.
Before filming began in Goa, the cast attended a week of seminars. “We worked on their physicality, explaining to them that their body is a tool. We created certain rituals which could be hand movements, that helped actors come back to themselves in a way. Say you are exhausted doing take-after-take or there is a technical issue that takes an actor mentally out of the scene. Just a gesture or movement, which was personal to each one, helped re-establish the connection with the scene,” Gai explains.
Khanna’s responsibility as intimacy coordinator was to liaise with the costume department, ensuring that closed-set standards were followed and that footage was safely transferred at the conclusion of each day to prevent leaks.
While Gehraiyaan may have marked the beginning of the mainstreaming of having an intimate department, there have been others before him. Manisha Basu is credited as an intimacy supervisor in the ZEE5 Original film Season’s Greetings (2019). Amanda Cutting, an intimacy coordinator whose credits include The Good Doctor, Snowpiercer, and Maid, was hired by the producers of MXPlayer’s sensual drama Mastram in 2020.
Khanna has worked as an intimacy coordinator on a dozen films since Gehraiyaan ended production last November, including Netflix India’s The Fame Game, Cobalt Blue, Penthouse, and Choona, as well as Amazon Prime Video India’s Four More Shots Please! Season 3 and filmmaker R Balki’s feature Chup.
Gai’s tenure as the intimacy director on Gehraiyaan may have been a one-time position, but she thinks intimacy coordinators will soon become as common and accepted as dance or stunt choreographers on set.
“The new generation of filmmakers are much more responsible when it comes to creating a safe space for their actors.”
Also, having an intimacy coordinator makes life so much easier for the filmmakers themselves. Instead of all the awkwardness, you have a person who has their own way of making everyone comfortable,” she explains.
During the first COVID-19 lockdown, Khanna, who has worked as a director’s assistant on films including Andhadhun and Badlapur, received remote training from Hollywood intimacy coordinator Amanda Blumenthal (Euphoria, The White Lotus, Being the Ricardos). Closed set regulations, choreography and movement coaching, understanding sexuality, and how to be an advocate for LGBTQ+ cast and crew were all covered in the workshop.
Chaturvedi isn’t the only one who thinks kissing, nudity, or simulated sex are synonymous with personal scenes. Khanna insists that there is a lot more. “It could also be any kind of familial intimacy, stories that deal with the LGBTQIA+ community, scenes of physical or sexual violence, hyper sexualisation of characters like item numbers or scenes where a character is wearing skimpy clothes out of context. Even a scene in a doctor’s clinic that requires a physical examination would be considered an intimate scene,” Khanna says.
On February 11th, Amazon Prime Video India will release Gehraiyaan.
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