Making “I Can’t Think Straight”

 
 

Sarif was also quite impressed that neither performer had
any issues at all with playing lesbian roles onscreen.

“I will say one thing
for these two — the issue of the stories being between two women never even
crossed their minds, it never even came up in conversation. It was just a great
story that they wanted to be a part of.” Said Sheth, “You know what’s funny? It didn’t even occur to
me.”

She continued: “To be quite frank, anytime I go on set and I have to kiss
someone, I’m like ‘great, I’m in bed with a stranger!’ so a guy and a girl,
they’re equally awkward!” She laughed. “To me, there’s no difference… I just
thought it was a beautiful love story, and ok, it’s with this woman, and that’s
wonderful.”

When the Indian press got word that Lisa Ray (as a former
Bollywood star) was going to play a lesbian, they created a frenzy that threatened
to overshadow the small production. According to Kattan, Ray completely ignored all the
drama, and focused on her character.

“I think Lisa’s reaction was so incredible,” said Kattan. “She
just blocked it off and wouldn’t engage – she had a lot of people calling for
interviews and wanting to sensationalize it more and she just would not go
there, and we all agreed to just concentrate on the filmmaking and not on the
periphery and the issues that were around … and just focus on creating two
beautiful films.”

Finally, production began, but circumstances were far from
ideal – Sarif had a measly thirty days to turn her novel into a feature film.

“We had a very tough shoot,” said the director. “Days were just chopped out of
the schedule without any warning, things were suddenly not available. So, every
day was a struggle, particularly for Hanan, just to keep things going, keep it
together, and for me to just try and cover the story.”

And then, the legal battles began.

“When that shoot finished, everything collapsed.” She
continued. “It turned out then that a lot of payments hadn’t been made, and the
movie basically went into limbo for awhile, and we had to launch a legal battle
to get it back.”

It’s a real testament to the passion and character of everyone
involved that all the trials and tribulations were taken in stride. “It was
definitely trying and hard,” admits Sheth, “and unfortunately, one of the
financiers was not a nice guy. You know, it’s a war. You go to war anyway in a
movie, it’s your blood sweat and tears with any small movie…” She continued:
“But, you come really close through it, by the end of that, and you hope that
you’re doing good work in the midst of all that.”

Sarif (right) on set with Lisa Ray

Sarif and Kattan were remarkably nonplussed by the
situation, moving right to setting up a new feature in the midst of the legal
chaos: The World Unseen (also adapted
from her eponymous novel), about a romance between two Indian South-African
women in Apartheid South Africa (in the 1950s,
specifically).

Sarif and Kattan actually moved their family to
South Africa

in
order to set up for the film.

Certainly, the lessons so bitterly learned on Straight carried over to the more
ambitious second project. “It was a bigger move and challenge, a different time
period and location, so it took more preparation and more work. Having done I Can’t Think Straight had prepared us
to know to spend more time with preproduction to get everything right so when
we did start shooting, that first day, everything was in place. Said Kattan.

Both films are similar in many ways – though the stories are
different, both are lesbian romances set within very traditional, stiffly
structured cultures and worlds. Each film has layers of commentary about race,
gender, sexuality and politics, and on a more visible note, they star the same
leads.

Thankfully, Sarif handles her material with a deft touch – there’s a
lightness and a humorous streak to both films (though particularly in Straight) that keeps her work very
balanced and natural – it’s not all drama.

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