Indian actress and former Dubai-based talent Celina Jaitly, who returns to cinema with her 45-minute film ‘Season’s Greetings’ premiering on April 15 on streaming service Zee5, remembers being terribly depressed when she was shooting for her comeback film.
She was at one of the lowest phases in her life while filming ‘Season’s Greetings’, a stirring and tumultuous mother-daughter tale.
“It was very difficult to face the camera when you are facing depression and when you have lost your mother, and a child… Shooting for this film was one of the most difficult things I had to ever do in my life,” said Jaitly in an exclusive interview with Gulf News tabloid.
The former Miss India and UN equality champion, who lived in Dubai with her Austrian hotelier husband Peter Haag and three children until last year, had lost both her parents and one of her twin boys almost at the same time. The ‘tragic circumstances’ had made her spiral into a deep depression, said Jaitly.
“Peter left his job because I was suffering from such severe depression that we had no option but to leave Dubai. He said: ‘let’s go back to Austria and let us disconnect from everything till you get better. That really helped me and getting my husband’s support in this meant a lot. In a way, ‘Season’s Greeting’ played an important part in healing me and making me feel better,” said Jaitly.
Directed by Ram Kamal Mukherjee, ‘Season’s Greetings’ is a succinct movie that explores the tenuous and emotionally-charged relationship between a single mother (Lillette Dubey) and her grown-up daughter Romita who travels to Kolkota from Dubai to introduce her UAE-based Muslim boyfriend, played by debutant actor Azhaar Khan. The family reunion is fraught with tension and twists. The daughter’s misgivings about tackling abandonment issues from her dad and her single mother simmers during their dinner.
So did Jaitly — the 39-year-old mother of two sets of twins — get an emotional closure after losing her mother and one twin boy after working in ‘Season’s Greetings’?
“You can never find closure when you lose the most important and valuable things in your life. Daddy had just passed away and suddenly mama too … My parents were so full of life and they were this young, military army couple. The truth is you can never get closure from losing your parents. But this movie helped me a vent a lot of emotions… I am not getting treatment in Austria for the past one year,” said Jaitly.
Living with mental health problems is an on-going process and the actress urges everyone to seek help from family and doctors.
“Don’t shy away from getting treatment… In my experience, it’s so important to get treatment so that your mind can function well. To be a good wife, a good mother and a good human being, your mind has to function well. Only then, can you reach your maximum potential as a human being,” said Jaitly.
The mother of three young boys also sought medical help knowing fully that her physical and emotional well-being directly impacts many lives.
“So many lives are attached to yo … My husband has sacrificed a lot for me. So anyone who’s suffering pain like I did, it’s important that you get help and support from your family and professionals … I promise it will get better,” said Jaitly. As if on cue, you could hear the music of popular kid’s show ‘Peppa Pig’ droning in the background and one of her twin boys being fed — an indicaton that Jaitly’s life is limping back to normalcy.
Even though she was battling depression after a series of deaths in her family, it was her mother who propelled her to get back into the world of Hindi films. Her last release ‘Will You Marry Me’ released in 2012 and was shot extensively in Fujairah.
“The reason why I shot this film was because it was my mom’s last wish. She wanted me to go back to cinema… Ram [director of ‘Season’s Greetings’] narrated this story to me in a parking lot in Dubai. He told me that one of the most important aspects of this film was the mother-daughter relationship between Lilletteji and me. Somehow it struck me like a sign from above. Mama wanted me to go back to films and I did,” said Jaitly.
She dubs the last couple of years as one of the darkest periods in her life.
“How do you recover from a tragic circumstance of losing your parents and your child — all around the same time. It’s something that can only happen in your worst nightmare and I lived through that.”
What fascinated her to director Mukherjee’s Season’s Greetings was his approach to tackling the mother-daughter dynamic in the short film.
“The mother-daughter relationships in Indian films can be very clinched. Relationship are not always flowing in one direction like a beautiful river. There are highs and lows. While there’s nothing more that I love in my life more than my mother, we had a turbulent relationship too. This movie explores those highs and those lows. There are no cliches here.”
'Season’s Greetings' also marks the real-life transwoman model and activist Shree Ghatak’s acting debut. She plays the house help Chapala. The movie is also a nod to the celebrated Bengali director Rituparno Ghosh.
“My character Romita was Rituparna Sengupta’s character in Rituparno Ghosh, Rituda’s, film ‘Dahan’ . Our director Ram Kamal Mukherjee was trying to pay a posthumous tribute to all those anecdotes in his film that every film lover will relate to … Both Lillette and I tried to dissect Romita like Rituda would have done — with a scalpel. He depicted human relationships against contemporary and periodic social context so well.”
Jaitly and the late director Ghosh, who died at 49, and is known for career-defining works such as ‘Chokher Bali’, ‘Abohoman’ and ‘Unishe April’ is known for his realistic depictions of interpersonal relationships and captured middle class angst in all its complicated glory.
“Ritu da and I were supposed to work together. But I became pregnant with twins and he suddenly passed away. Our story was left untold, but I always felt that there was divine intervention from beyond for ‘Season’s Greetings’.”
Jaitly dubs her comeback film as an instrument of healing, in more ways that one. As the world grapples over coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown is aggravating all those suffering from mental health conditions, her latest film could be that beacon of hope.
“This movie has a unique part in healing of the world and each one of us have a unique part to play in healing of the world now … We just want to touch people’s hearts with this movie in the difficult times we living in.”
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‘Season’s Greetings’ will have its world premiere on Zee5 on April 15.
Jaitly’s bond with late director Rituparno Ghosh
“His last words to me were random and disconnected. He said: ‘you can stay at the Tollygunge Club and we will shoot for our film’. But that film was not meant to be. But this film has a lot of hands blessing us from beyond . ‘Season’s Greetings’ is a subtle tribute to his body of work and the characters that he gave life to. I always pray that he finds acceptance and reaches a place of no judgment — something that he has battle with all his life.”