Aastha Khanna-Collage of screengrabs from Gehraiyaan
The #MeToo movement raises pertinent questions on the safety of women in work places. It also flags loopholes in various sectors, and evoke the need of policy based interventions to address sexual atrocities. One of the noteworthy changes apparently brought by the #MeToo movement in the film industry is that it led to creation of a new breed of professionals known as intimacy coordinators/directors. The job role has already gathered momentum in Hollywood, while India has some pioneers certified in this particular profession. On International Women's Day 2022, Mathrubhumi English is featuring perspectives of Aastha Khanna, who is India's first intimacy coordinator. She has completed 12 productions, which includes movies and OTT platform based shows. 'Gehraiyaan', the recently released Hindi movie which is lauded for the delicacy of intimate scenes, is one of the latest works she has been involved in. Aastha Khanna shares her reflections on relevance of Women's Day, feminism, her pursuits and more. Here are some excerpts of the interview.
Why is intimacy coordination more important in the post MeToo Era? You have also found Intimacy Collective, a group of intimacy professionals. So why should Indian film productions focus on this? What was your inspiration?
Our industry, has recently drawn focus on sexual harassment, combined with the changing demands for newer, more contemporary and relatable stories. The structure and workflow itself has evolved to the point where it necessitates the need for clear and concise guidelines within the scope of intimate scenes and the functioning of intimacy coordinators. It is a profession which is widely practiced in the film industries abroad and is a begging necessity in India.
With Intimacy Collective, we aim to assist and protect members of the entertainment industry through guidelines for protected and equitable workplaces. We are envisioning a BRAVE SPACE which upholds respect, harassment prevention and consent-based interactions for scenes involving nudity, intimacy, simulated sex and sexual violence. We aim to continue our dialogue with industry stakeholders who are willing to take up a shared responsibility to unequivocally condemn discomfort or harassment faced by performers and problems encountered by filmmakers. We also aim to further support the scope of freedom within a director’s vision to realize their story in the best possible way by upholding best practices. The Intimacy Collective endeavours to accelerate a culture shift within the entertainment industry and the world we live in to be a more conscious place where utmost value is given to safety and consent. I was awestruck how the west deals with scenes of intimacy and how they counter challenges. My inspiration was that and I am ambitious about bringing that cultural shift to India.
Movies are notorious for male gaze in them. This is mainly because the film fraternity is predominantly patriarchal like many other fields. How do you portray power equations in intimacy scenes?
If I'm completely honest, I only comment on the gaze of the directors by informing them of their gazes if it does feel jarring. Some stories require it, for the power dynamic of the scene being portrayed. An intimacy coordinator's (IC) job is to inform the creators of the gaze, but not to dictate it. As for me personally I try to justify the power dynamic in the story when choreographing scenes, if I'm looking to neutralize the gaze.
What intimacy coordination is all about? How do you work with the script writers, directors, costume designers and other relevant departments?
An intimacy coordinator (IC) is hired on a production set to support the director's vision and actors' process. They safeguard the needs and boundaries of the actors. An IC secures the production from unforeseen delays or lawsuits. They are advocates for the consent of the actors. An IC's role on set is one of extreme sensitivity and requires that the person hired for the role to be duly trained. The person should be in tune with the cultural, political and social environment they are working in.
With writers, an IC, if called upon to do so, may be able to consult with the writer on how to treat a scene, or on the authenticity of the actions that are depicted in the screenplay. ICs may also help put the writers in touch with consultants (LGBTQ/ BDSM/ sex postive/ diversity) which in turn help them to have the required research with respect to intimacy scenes.
Collaboration with wardrobe and make-up departments begins early in the process, so as to ensure that everything is in place that you might need to make performers more comfortable. IC discusses what barriers or prosthetics to make, planning of lights and shots, which part has to look good are aspects that must be discussed in collaboration.
There is a notion that intimacy scene is synonym to sex scene. Do you subscribe to such a notion?
Intimacy scenes are those scenes with intimate interactions, whether that is with the self or other. The act can be with or without nudity. Scenes of intimacy include, but are not limited to, scenes involving nudity, simulated sex, kissing, touching, physical examinations, groping over clothing, dry humping, flirtation, simulated sexual harassment/violence, or any other form of intimate contact. Hyper sexualised shots of body parts, dance numbers with portrayal of hyper-sexualised characters, intimacy between minors, or characters that play family members or friends, should also be considered to be scenes of intimacy when relevant. Every character such as every person or animal has its own unique language of intimacy. Delving into character arc, backstory, personality types, stories setting, and other factors allow for one to build layers into the characters and how these characters would then be around one another. This information truly helps in then including that language and vocabulary of the characters into the scenes of intimacy to make them look authentic.
What is the relevance of Women's Day and what is your take on feminism?
It's a day for every woman to uplift and celebrate all the other women around her. The day also reminds individuals of all genders to be in touch with their feminine side and celebrate it. For me feminism means an equal opportunity and an equal voice at the table for all genders.
What is your take on Malayalam movies?
I haven't watched too many Malayalam films. But whatever I have seen has allowed me to safely say Malayalam films are way ahead of their time and have much more nuanced storytelling than the other film industries in India. I would absolutely love to work in the Malayalam industry and cannot wait for my first project!