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Verve People
February 08, 2015

On A Wing And A Laugh

Text by Shashi Baliga. Photographs by Ritam Banerjee. Styling by Chandni Bahri. Make-up and Hair by Shivani Sheth

The two have, individually and together, spearheaded breakthrough movies like Paa, Cheeni Kum and English Vinglish. As Gauri Shinde and R Balki’s Shamitabh hits theatres, the couple engages in an animated interaction with Verve about making magic at the box office

  • Gauri Shinde, R Balki, Shamitabh, Paa, Cheeni Kum, English Vinglish
  • Gauri Shinde, R Balki, Shamitabh, Paa, Cheeni Kum, English Vinglish
  • Gauri Shinde, R Balki, Shamitabh, Paa, Cheeni Kum, English Vinglish

On a Wednesday afternoon, I find myself at Mehboob Studios for my appointed interaction with a film-making couple whose work I have admired. During the shoot for Verve, with photographer Ritam Banerjee they are patient, obedient models, offering no advice whatsoever about angles or lighting. Our conversation about movies, marriage and creative what-nots passes so swiftly and entertainingly that as I leave, I wonder: did I really laugh that much through this interview? When I replay my recording, I realise, no, all three of us laughed much more than I thought we did. The gusts of laughter that erupt every few seconds are led by Gauri Shinde, director and ad film-maker whose effervescence fills a room.

Her husband, R Balki, also a director and ad film-maker, is quieter, but he’s the guy who is making us laugh. No signs of stress even if his third movie, Shamitabh (after Cheeni Kum and Paa), is readying for release. Gauri, on her part, is ready with the script for her next after English Vinglish, and waiting for her husband to find the time to take his first look at it. This is a relationship that grew and now blooms around the movies. It’s been seven years with no sign of an itch — not bad going for a couple who thinks it’s a near-unnatural state of existence. Here’s unravelling the hows and whys.

Let’s rewind to Day 1. Gauri, you’ve said it was love at third sight for you. Right?
Gauri: Third, fourth — I’m not sure of the exact number but yes, I took a while to respond when he was pursuing me. For him it was apparently love at first sight, when he saw me in a lift. Right?
Balki: ‘Hey, interesting.’ That was my first reaction.

So, Gauri, what was your instinctive one-word reaction?
Gauri: Irritating! So it was Interesting versus Irritating!

And now, 10-12 years later, what would that one word be?
Gauri: I’d still say the same — Irritating!
Balki: I might also say the same (‘Irritating’) but… No!
Gauri: Ha ha, I meant interesting.
Balki: Yes, it would still be interesting, but with a little more pause. Like, “Ya… Interesting!”

Does this mean that after all these years, you’re pretty much the same people in this relationship?
Gauri: I think so.
Balki: I don’t think we’ve changed at all. That could be a problem or not a problem, I don’t know.

The very act of living and adjusting together in one space 24/7 is supposed to smooth out some rough edges. Did any of that happen with you?
Gauri: Yes, but after a very long time.
Balki: And every time we assess things, some new rough edges have come in!
Gauri: Also, the great thing is, we’re not together 24/7.
Balki: In the 10-12 years we’ve been married….
Gauri: (Interrupts) We have been married seven years, not 12!
Balki: Yes, we’ve known each other 12 years. So, in the seven years we’ve been married, we must have spent some six months together in totality because we’ve both been doing our own thing. So, it’s nice to come back home because there’s a desire to come back, instead of saying, why the hell do I have to?

Many people do think marriage is an unnatural state of existence…
Gauri: (Jumps in) Totally! I’m lucky in the sense that I don’t feel married. And I don’t ever want to feel married. There’s no typically married duty, responsibility or behaviour that I’ve felt I have to do even for a moment. That’s why I don’t mind being married. Otherwise I’m aghast at this institution — what is it there for?!

Balki, do you feel like a bachelor?
Balki: I wish I could say the same but I can’t! It’s all right for a woman to feel free and not married, but a man has to feel a little bonded or it’s not going to work. It’s not that it’s too much of a price to pay, but the man has to pay a little more.

Given that you spend so little time together, do you consciously schedule time together? Or do you go with the flow?
Gauri: We don’t plan it; it’s usually spontaneous. Like, one day, we’ll say, let’s have a quick lunch or coffee. Or suddenly, if we feel like going on a two-day holiday, we just go.

Just cancel all your appointments and leave?
Balki: No, we don’t even cancel our appointments, we just go!

Considering you’re both movie addicts, you must be talking shop much of the time. Do you have any rules like no talking shop at the dinner table or in bed?
Gauri: No, because it doesn’t feel like work for us. It’s something we love.
Balki: It’s quite the opposite at the dinner table actually; she keeps saying, “Talk, talk, talk… don’t just eat!”
Gauri: I want to know what’s happened with his movie, his day. And if he doesn’t say anything, I just talk anyway; tell him about my day, about anything I want to.

Are you listening, Balki?
Balki: Of course, I’m listening.
Gauri: No, I don’t think he’s listening half the time. But I have the satisfaction of saying what I wanted to.
Balki: You know women aren’t the only ones in that situation. Sometimes men want to talk too, in their own space and time.

Then why don’t you?
Balki: Because that’s the time women don’t want to listen! This is very, very funny; you always end up blaming us though we never blame you.

Ok, so no rules about talking. Are there any rules at all?
Gauri: I have my cleanliness rules. They’re not being followed but I still have them.

Rules about what?
Gauri: About keeping the bathroom clean, stuff like that.

The only way you can maintain sanity in this matter is to have separate bathrooms!
Gauri: Yes, that’s what we’ve done.
Balki: Do you know why men need another bathroom? Because there’s no space to keep bathing, that’s why. We dirty the bathroom so that you can kick us out and we can have the other bathroom.

Do you consult each other when you’re writing your scripts?
Gauri: We may sometimes, when we’re stuck with a line or scene. But otherwise, we show each other our scripts only when they’re finished. He’s the first person I show mine to and his feedback is very important for me.
Balki: Her feedback is important to me because she can be more honest and ruthless than others. She doesn’t have to couch it in another way; she’ll say “Trash, trash!”. You need that.

You’ve said “Trash, trash”?
Gauri: Not to his entire film but certain parts, yes.
Balki: At first you get angry, but then you rewrite it.

Creative sparks are bound to fly with two directors around…who’s the more patient one?
Balki: I have a little more patience than her.
Gauri: And he’s more disciplined than me, too.
Balki: I think marriages have broken up over far less than the kind of fights we have. But after the fight there are magical moments. And if there weren’t those magical moments, perhaps the marriage could fall apart. Actually I think it’s difficult for any two people to stay together; it’s an almost unimaginable task. So you can’t take too much credit for making a marriage work, you just have to trust your luck.  And luck has been on our side.
Gauri: I can’t imagine myself involved with someone who is not involved in some creative pursuit, like, say a banker. With all our differences and sparks, it’s still exciting and I’m never bored. I’d rather have this any day over anything else.

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