Premjit Mohapatra speaks to India’s first quadriplegic actor Jitendra Biswal and the team of his film Two Desires And a Dream.
The film Two Desires And a Dream, with its main lead Jitendra Biswal, a quadriplegic in real life, is a fresh and bold attempt at movie-making, which brings to life the full spectrum of human emotions of a differently-abled individual, who explores love and sexuality in his own unique way.
Remarks India’s (and perhaps the world’s, too) first quadriplegic actor Jitendra Biswal, who also conceived the story, “Society, aided by the media, is trapped in body images of how a man or woman should look. This prompts the differently-abled to bottle our innermost desires, need for physical intimacy or relationships. Everything that is basic and normal to human nature holds true for us too. We desire the same experiences, have the same feelings and indulge in fantasies, including sexual cravings. We are quite normal down there and don’t want lives bereft of relationships, but these issues of people with disabilities are always pushed underground.”
A disabled rights activist and motivational counsellor, Jitendra released a video My Attitude, My life…Despite My Disability, last May, through a collage of photographs accompanied by text messages which went viral on YouTube, drawing appreciation from renowned people like Barkha Dutt, Shashi Tharoor, Twinkle Khanna and Nagesh Kukunoor. This motivated him to come up with something substantial, which led to the idea for a movie. “Movies have a wider reach and the audio visual medium strikes a chord with most,” said Jitendra.
This led him to director Avinash Nanda who he had known since 1994. “I asked him what he wanted and was pleasantly taken back when he said, ‘I want to smell a woman, I want to sit with a beautiful woman and experience the feeling.’ From then on, it was clear what the movie was going to be. I developed the story and screenplay with my elder brother Abhimanyu Mishra, with inputs from Jitendra and the end product will certainly measure up to our expectations,” remarks Avinash, a veteran of 350 ad films, having put in 26 years in the industry.
It wasn’t an easy task. Avinash, reflecting on this incredible journey, says, “Jitendra’s story of unfulfilled desires because of his being a 100% quadriplegic was something we believed had to be told. So we decided to co-produce it and Two Desires and a Dream was born. But even we were not prepared… when Jitendra volunteered to play himself in the film. Now that became a whole new challenge as a filmmaker!
His speech impairment meant the dialogues wouldn’t be clear, his facial muscles don’t reflect emotions so you won’t know what he is feeling!
We thought all this would make it difficult for the viewer to go along with his journey. But as we progressed with the shoot, we found all that was needed to overcome this was a bit of patience, empathy and complete attention to what’s he is trying to communicate.” And isn’t that precisely what all differently-abled persons crave for, a bit of patience a lot of understanding?
Avinash delved into the complex realities of the character and has tried to tell his tale honestly, with a dash of humour, subtlety and sensitivity. In doing so he has gone where no director has gone before and has steered clear of validating the “Bollywood” practice of choosing non-disabled actors to portray disabled characters.
The story unravels when Jitendra comes to visit the city where socialite Swapna lives, after months of online interaction. A chance encounter is followed by a series of conversations and events spread over three days. Jitendra’s feelings blossom and he confesses his frustrations, agonizing loneliness, childhood crushes, innermost desires and aspirations. His expressions of amorous intent set the stage for a pulsating end, backed by a compelling background score, which according to the director is the second protagonist of the movie. Whether Jitendra’s feelings bear fruition is something for the audience to find out.
Actor and social activist Swapna Pati, who plays the female lead, has also co-produced the movie with Rajinder Bhatia through her Swapna Pati Foundation. “Jitendra came to my office and proposed that I play the female lead,” recalls Swapna. “The role was challenging and unlike anything I have done so far. Also the fact that Jitendra was playing the lead and the story was going against the conventional wisdom of movie making made me want to be part of it even more,” she adds.
On how she prepared for the role, Swapna said, “We had workshops together where we honed our performances. There was some awkwardness at first, but the more I came to know Jitendra, the more comfortable I got.
He is much more than a body confined to a wheelchair; he is multi-dimensional and capable of everything, including relationships.”
The awkwardness, the hesitancy, is what the movie seeks to address at some level too. Rajinder Bhatia, a businessman from Bhubaneswar, echoes Swapna, when he says, “Abhinash and I have been friends for a long time. I was moved by the story and after meeting Jitendra, a person living his life undeterred and also acting in the film, I jumped at the opportunity.”
The team of Two Desires and a Dream hopes to kickstart a new discourse on the issues of the differently-abled. The 90-minute movie, whose trailer has crossed 1,47,000 views on Youtube, is set for release on Dec 30th. It has been shot on location in Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Chitrakoot. The star cast also includes Bollywood actors Aryan Vaid, Preeti Jhangiani, Hemant Choudhury and Brijendra Kala. The movie will be released in select halls and is earning accolades at international film festivals.
(About Jitendra Kumar Biswal: Jitendra, who hails from Odisha holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, a Bachelor’s in Law, a Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Applications, and Certification in Business Management from IIM, Ranchi. He suffered from muscular damage on account of wrongful administration of antibiotics dose when he was 7 months old and was down with measles. Despite the bleak prognosis which didn’t give him more than 20 years he is still going strong. Although left with the use of right forearm which he uses to write and answer phone calls and confined to automatic wheelchair and requiring the assistance of an attendant at most times Jitendra lives his life undeterred and with all the vigour at his disposal.)