She had a reasonably successful stint as an actor when she decided to leave the glitz and glamour of Bollywood for a quiet marital life in Europe. Now a mother of three, what has inspired Celina Jaitly to make a comeback?

Celina Jaitly had a dream debut in 2003 when Feroz Khan launched her opposite his son Fardeen in Janasheen. The film failed to set the box office on fire, but she shined in her part. It was followed by a few successes, commercial and otherwise, and many failures. Her not-so-impressive show at the box office, however, didn’t stop the actor from speaking her mind, whether it was about her movie choices or her fight for equality for all irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. She, for instance, turned down the women-centric role in Julie (2004) just because she couldn’t “agree with the reasoning of the protagonist in the story, who resorts to prostitution because her man ditches her”. And in an industry obsessed with being politically-correct, she enthusiastically and whole-heartedly fought for LGBT rights in India.

After staying away from Bollywood for almost a decade, Celina returns to cinema this week with author-turned-director Ram Kamal Mukherjee’s Season’s Greetings. The film, for her, is “a calling from beyond” as she “connected with the story at several levels”. But does she regret working at a time when there were not enough film choices and platforms? Does she think she should have avoided some of the films she did in the past? “I have never regretted anything in my past, except the time when I lost my parents and our baby son, and a short phase in my childhood when I couldn’t walk due to an illness. Everything else has been a massive learning trajectory for me,” she states.

In an interview with Guardian 20, Celina talks about her comeback film, her journey as an actor and an individual, and how the battle for LGBTQIA rights is not over yet. Excerpts:

 

Q. Season’s Greetings is your comeback movie. What made you sign this film?

A. I was initially not a part of this film. I guess, it’s destiny. In fact, Ram Kamal (director) and I were discussing something else, when he suddenly popped up with this script! But after reading it, I connected with the story at several levels. One, I had recently lost my mother, and while reading the script I could relate with my character who had an intense relationship with her mother. I had tears rolling down, as I was going through the story of the daughter in the film. Two, the film deals with every aspect of LGTBQIA. Being associated with the cause so strongly, the film engaged me at that level too.

 Q. How have things changed from the time you last worked in 2011?

A. A lot has changed. Who would have thought then that during the release of my next film, a virus would shut the world down? That my parents won’t be alive to give their feedback? That I would be married and living in Europe with three kids? That Section 377 would be revoked and LGBTQIA in India would have attained right to life? As the coronavirus epidemic too suggests, life is unpredictable.

 Q. This film has just been released on a digital platform. How do you see the growth of so many digital platforms in India?

A. When I joined films in 2003, people took offence when you asked them for a script. Even if a script was given to you, the dialogue and story would be very different from what it was initially projected to be. Thanks to the digital platform, one can truly explore so many new dimensions of themselves as actors.

 Q. Post your marriage, you shifted abroad and are now staying in Austria. Did you ever miss the glitz and glamour of Bollywood?

A. I have been enjoying the limelight since I was 15 years old. I started my very busy and stressful professional career at an age when people enjoyed their teens in colleges and has campus romances. When Peter (Haag) came in my life, he was my charming prince, and I knew that if I had to settle in life then it had to be with him! Obviously, both of us love kids and we were blessed with twins twice.

 Q. The film comes at a time when the world is battling coronavirus. How is Europe dealing with this epidemic?

A. Italy is just three hours from where we live in Austria. It was heart-breaking to see up close the devastating outcome of the pandemic. We, in Austria, were one of the first European countries to go into lockdown, thanks to the proactive decision of our Chancellor. While most countries around the world are now busy extending lockdown measures, Austria is bucking the trend and slowly easing its restrictions. Austria’s example offers a glimmer of hope to other countries still climbing the coronavirus peak.

 Q. You have always been on the forefront for the revocation of Section 377. Now that it has been revoked in India, how do you see it?

A. Repealing of Section 377 has certainly laid the groundwork for better protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the Indian government’s stance on LGBTQIA rights has evolved considerably. But much more needs to be done. I have often said that ‘change’ begins with ‘difficult’ conversations. So, while we have won our fight for repealing Section 377 in India, the real battle remains on working at the grassroot levels in laying out foundation towards equality for all irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity.

 Q. How was it working with a trans actor in Season’s Greetings?

A. There is a saying in the corporate world that companies which embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business outperform their peers. I believe it applies to every aspect of life. Working with Shree (Ghatak) was one of the biggest joys of my life journey and personal beliefs. It is also an attempt to find hope and a voice that the trans community never had.

 Q. You were one of the few actors who never shied away from taking up issues and causes. Unfortunately, that has not been the case in Bollywood…

A. We all have a unique part to play in the healing of this world. I cannot speak for others as they best know what motivates them and gives their souls peace. I guess that is different for every individual. I can only speak for myself and I believe in the fact that “you have to be the change that you want to see”.

Q. Would we be seeing you in more films in near future? Any other films have you signed?

A. I am very cautious about the work I undertake now. I am looking forward to do something wonderful with another dear friend and, of course, cinema is a life-long affair.