Paromita Vohra | The Spool

There are so many different hats that you wear, you’re writing films, you’re writing columns, you’re the chief proponent of conversations of desire and it doesn’t seem to be driven by fame or money so what is it that is driving you to do all of this?

It’s not driven by money but it’s certainly driven by love. The thing is I don’t see myself as wearing many hats; it’s not different professions for me. It’s all born out of an interest in the same set of themes and wanting to talk about different aspects of certain things in the world. So much of what I am interested in is actually the implicit world, not the explicit world of proof, but the implicit world of senses and how we understand the world through what we can feel underneath the words. Some things work better in film, some in writing. For me it’s very important to express, I have to make something everyday and I use whatever form is available to me. Art is a conversation of what you sense is happening around you. It is also actually at a very basic level a desire to make some sense of life. I like the idea of engaging with the other a lot and that is actually the nature of my work. I would say that love and desire are the central metaphors of my work; you know they are really not the topical subject matter of my work.

How do you decide what form is right to talk about something?

Those processes are sometimes, I won’t say mysterious, but intuitive to an extent. I can sometime identify retrospectively why I think something worked. But to give you an example, I wrote a long essay about Chetan Bhagat’s book Half Girlfriend. So now it stands to reason that it should be a written piece because it’s about a written work. My thought was how should I write about Chetan Bhagat’s book? I don’t want to mock it; I want to understand it as a phenomenon, to genuinely engage with this book as I might with another book. So I decided that I should write as the book is happening because I might have a feeling when I finish the book that I don’t like it, while appreciating some things as I was reading. I started writing a diary of reading a book. As I was reading the book I thought this book has got a form and is already pre-designed to be a screenplay. I could see that it’s written like a very dull three act structure that everyone adheres to, the orthodoxy of commercial script writing. I also wrote my diary in three acts. So it became in a sense a dance with Chetan Bhagat’s book and I thought that was important to do because you know whatever my critique of it should happen on the terms of that work. There is no point of critiquing something because that thing is not like you. What’s the point of that right?

I write a column about love and I was already writing an opinion column with another newspaper when I started that, so I was like what’s the point of writing two columns ‘cause you should do something artistically different in the other one not just have a different topic. So what am I going to do in that and for me the aim in each love column is that it should be like a Hindi film song. Each column should have that beauty, that idea. You know in a Hindi film song it’s just one strong idea or emotion explored in two or three paragraphs with a really great hook. So that’s what I am trying to achieve in a written form. In some senses I feel like the column itself communicates the feeling of love, that’s why the Hindi film song which in essence is very ornamental, very bhavuk, you know it’s very ras bhara. So if I can bring that much ras then the feeling of love is in the column but I may speak about politics, feminism, I may also speak about dating and trends and Tinder and what’s going on. I think that these are interesting creative puzzles to solve, how do you bring in that feeling of interactivity which is there in live performance into the film or into writing.

So what’s your opinion on this whole take that some love is more important than other love, love for country trumps love for partner, your friends, sex?

I think it’s interesting when people say one kind of love is more than other kind of love because they have no proof of it right? You can’t prove it so it’s bullshit in other words. Maybe it’s more important to you, maybe. So I don’t want to tell you it’s not. Maybe for you love of country is more important than love of lover. Aur bhi dukh hai zamane mein mohabbat ke siva type of thing, like I hate that. Because I’m like tumhare liye honge par kisi aur ke liye nahi hai. Don’t tell the other person that their dukh is less important than your dukh. This hierarchy of hurts, loves, issues, whatever these are all mechanisms of control. I’m telling you that you are less. You’re willing to die for something that is love. You are willing to live because of something – that is not love?

I feel as women we are very coy in talking about sex even with other women. Why is that?

I don’t think women are coy in talking about sex. Men are coy in talking about sex. Men are not talking about the sex they are really having. Men are saying things that they see in pornography, they are trying to have sex like they see in pornography, they don’t want to admit it. The number of men in India who are trying not to use condoms during sex is remarkable and one of the reasons they don’t do it is because they lose their erections – or don’t access pleasure at other levels to keep them in the story. Because they have to exist so much in the pornographic moment as opposed to the narrative moment of sex that they come out of the role at that moment or whatever.  They are not talking about that.

Women are not talking about that dissatisfying experience of sex, because women feel it is upto them to be the pure generators of desire, right? You are supposed to be the object of desire so extreme that a man will never step out of it.

So I think that people don’t talk about the sex they have partly because they feel shame, partly because they feel doubt, partly because nobody ever talks about it. So you are not very sure if other people are having the experience you are having.

Women love to read about sex, women love to talk about sex, women love to feel desire. Women talk about it in different ways that way has been deemed unfashionable. So what we are suffering from right now is a fake sexual revolution, where it has been decided that the only way to be sexually liberated is to be like that most misogynist of randy men, which most men are also not like. Even men don’t conform to a norm, but that norm has been made into a definition of sexual liberation. So everybody is like, I want to be sexually liberated, I better like fuck a lot and then you know talk like that also. I don’t care, I can say fuck and cock and whatever and that means I am a cool chick.

So eventually sexual liberation is about deciding what’s your sexual journey.

You may be monogamous, I think that some people are monogamous in nature, I have known such people. They are very very happy. I have a friend who’s had the same partner since she was 16, and it’s a very tempestuous relationship and sometimes when we talk, I say to her that, ‘you know I sometimes feel you are having all the relationships with one person that I have with many’ so in some sense it’s all about you and you know what you are experiencing. It’s not even about those mechanics of how many, how many times, in what way, in which position. So I think that women love to talk about sex differently, more metaphorically sometime, more directly sometime, but we are oppressed by this extremely mechanistic language of sex that has taken over and I think it’s oppressive to men too, because they have to conform to even more than women.

On Agents of Ishq we found this thing, women and queer people really want to share. A lot of the persona essay material on Agents of Ishq is what they call user generated, we have not solicited it. So women and queer people, but not  much straight men, straight men are not willing to talk about sex. I don’t believe it was always like that, I think regular Indian men did engage in poetry and philosophy and so, the experiential once. But now we are in the grip of one infantilised Americanised notion of what it is to be a man.

Talking about dating, the urban reluctance and trepidation of love, should I put myself out there or is this socially acceptable, should I just have a Whatsapp relationship with somebody I’ve met, like I’ve spoken to him on Tinder but never met. Any advise for 30-40 year olds who are out there looking for love but are reluctant to swipe right?

Yaar, humein dekh lijiye… biggest serial disaster of love. But I think that it’s difficult right, difficult to fall in love? And I use the phrase fall in love advisedly because, of the separation that’s been made. What you are supposed to be experiencing through dating apps is a numerical prowess of how many people you can match with.

I believe that there are a very small section of social animals (like me) who are like romantic experimenters and always want to feel romance over and over again. So we are early to try new dating platforms and there are many other people like us there. So we often find each other and it’s a bit thrilling and it’s a bit fun and you rediscover romance, but very soon it becomes a more generalized and commoditised space. I don’t know exactly how that happens but there is a way in which it becomes a non-risk taking space, and so it becomes a combative and violent space. Which is to say it’s people trying to score that means I should not be the one who’s hurt, I should not be the one who’s rejected, I should reject before I am rejected.

It becomes a video game of rejecting of negging before you can be negged.

In fact I think my last to last column was about romantic procrastination. I was talking to a friend of mine and he said, and there are all these people who are like not now, but not never. There are 60 matches sittin’ in this inbox out of which I have spoken to 4 people and 1 person asks me are you a cat person or a dog person, I simply became quiet, I don’t want to answer that question, I’m 48 years old and I don’t want to say I don’t know which I am, maybe I’m a parrot person, I really don’t know. I don’t want pets, I’m barely keeping my flowers alive here.

So basically my policy is, I don’t think it works any more (for die-hard romantics). As advice: If you match with somebody and if you keep talking to them for 3 or 4 days on the app you should move to whatsapp and after 3 or 4 days if you are still able to have a conversation you should meet them. You should meet people before the expectations get very high and you start fantasizing and hating yourself for fantasizing.

As the chief Agent of Ishq has there ever been an email or story that made you go hawwww

No, not haw but I was like okay I don’t know, I don’t want to know. We are making a podcast right now on waxing pubic hair. We’re recording interviews with beauticians and other people. One of the interviews is with a man who waxes gay men’s body hair. He was so detailed. It was not sexual but it was kind of a physical extremeness and I was just like I can’t hear this, it’s too much for me.

But I’ll tell you about a wow moment, a piece that I love was from a guy from a small town and its about being kinky. The way he describes it is that he started having sex with men when he was quite young. He said every time I’d have sex with this one boy I would dream afterwards of a woman doing to me what that boy had done and I didn’t know what this dream is, he didn’t know what BDSM is, he’d never heard of it. And then he said I had a friend like a best girl friend who used to like mildly insult me and there was that zing but I didn’t know what it was. And then one day we were playing dumb charades and I had to mime Joru ka Ghulaam and I bent down in front of her and I suddenly felt this feeling fill me up, this is what I am. When I read that I was like, oh my god this is like magic about how the mind shows you images of what you desire. I found it so powerful to discover how magical nature is.

You have a platform that talks about love, sex, desire etc in that space and that traditionally is a pretty person domain, fashion bloggers, film stars, beauty bloggers talk about it. You are what a lot of people will call not a conventionally pretty person. So have you ever felt like an outsider in this space, that is so dominated by pretty people?

I think that is a really good and important question and it’s kind of a sustained question of my life, not only because of not being conventionally good looking, but also not being a typical kind of woman in some sense. You do ask yourself that who’s going to believe you. If I talk about men behaving badly with me, people will be like, ‘yea yea that fat chick, obviously men behave badly with her’. What you find is, your real battle is not in other people finding you attractive but in you believing that they can find you attractive. So those struggles are ongoing struggles and I think they do enter when you write your own stuff, I write a lot of biographical stuff about this part of my life. But the thing is I don’t think it has anything to do about you being pretty or not. I think that I understand people well, I also think I understand the beauty of life well.

I agree with you I always feel ambivalent about am I authorized to talk about these things because I am not a pretty girl but all these things are meaningful to me so I want to talk about them and when you do it you realize you are not alone.

That’s really rooted in my belief in feminism that it has got very little to do with good looks and not good looks. What is feminism? It is the extrapolating from your own experience to understand other things in the world – only as a vehicle, way to frame question, not a way to assert answers or absolute knowledge. In many ways love and desire are also that – a way to use your feelings to engage with and understand another. At a personal level I feel like, I want to make beautiful things because I want to experience myself as beautiful because I have rarely done that. So in a way making things from inside which are beautiful tells you that maybe I am beautiful too. I don’t know. So that is my personal need that I answer through making art. But well caught.

How do you manage crushes?

Ummm… with relish.

So having a crush is like having lots of nice things to eat in the fridge. You have to ration it.

I mean not to be flippant. Come on isn’t it fun to have a crush. Haan toh bas. Having a crush is like listening to a song on loop, you know when you like a song very much it gives you a certain feeling and its feeding something right. It is an addictive process. Sometimes you listen to the song on loop the whole day and after sometime you don’t. I think it’s easy to manage a crush when you are older because you are able to disconnect with outcomes a little bit more. And I think that it sounds very new agey but I really do feel that as you grow older you are able to enjoy the feeling of being in love a lot more and the more you are disconnected from outcomes, and take responsibility for your own feelings, the more you enjoy it. So it’s to say existing in permanent possibility without actualizing the relationship. In relationships love works in a different way, I guess.

The Spool camp was a little divided in opinion about Shah Rukh Khan, so we questioned Paromita and got schooled! Watch!

When you go out and meet distant family members how do you tell them what you do? Do you have the kind of awkward moments to try and explain?

I mean yea, sometime people feel awkward, I don’t know. Like they’d ask, ‘what are you working on now?’ I’d say, ‘I’ve this digital project, it’s a multimedia project on sex and love’. ‘Acha acha.’ If they ask more then I answer, but my policy is to always say exactly what I am doing. I am not 25, when I was 25 they were a lot more  of ‘what are you doing, you know just being rebellious.’ What’s amazing is as you keep doing what you are doing, people come to love and respect you. I really do believe that. I remember I had an uncle with whom I had a fight when I was very young about his perception of my lifestyle, all very excessive and emotional and I was very angry  and very hurt and all of that and I didn’t talk to him for 2-3 years. Some 10-15 years later I don’t know what happened I was at his house and he was pretty drunk and I had just won some award for Khaamosh Paani and one of my uncle was saying I really like the movie and this uncle was saying mujhe itni jami nahin, I like the commercial films more but then he put his arm around me and said, I’m really proud of this girl you know, she really does what she wants to do and she has shown that she can do it and that’s amazing. And I just thought like this is awesome. You gotta give people time to come around.

After I had returned from Korea where I had won a prize for a film I happened to picked up the landline extension and I heard my dad talking to my friend. She said, ‘uncle you must be so proud of Paromita she is going to all these places and winning all these prizes’ he said, ‘yea I am proud of her but not because of the prizes, I am really proud of her because she is a very honest girl’. It’s the most joyful moment of my life.

We have to give ourselves the chance of being loved as we are. If we don’t give ourself that chance nobody else will give it to us.


Five songs that you should have sex to

Aiyo, okay I’ll try, but that’s only for today

  1. Baby I’m A Fool by Mellody Gardot
  2. Caramel by Suzanne Vega
  3. Abhi Na Jao Chod Ke
  4. Tumhe Dillagi Bhul Jaani Padegi by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
  5. Just Like A Woman by Bob Dylan

What does your Tinder bio say?

It says, I don’t remember, I think it says filmmaker writer, I’ll have to check,

Filmmaker writer, no agendas, appreciates kindness and courtesy

One sex tip for women in India

Find your clitoris early and never let it go.

And one for men

Find her clitoris early and never let it go, hahahaha, for straight men. Learn to kiss well.

What’s the one question you get asked the most about sex?

A lot of questions about female pleasure, from men and women. There seems to be a lot of uncertainty and ignorance on part of the men and a lot of curiosity on the part of women so there are many question about that. I think outside of AOI just a lot of concern about being seen as a slut. What’s the balance where you are sexually desirable but not too slutty, is a deep concern of women, which I find difficult to answer.

Apart from Shah Rukh name the top three men on your most desirable list

I’m like quite committed to Shah Rukh khan I must say.

I think George Clooney is hot, Siddharth Malhotra is hot

I don’t think I think about men that much, I am drawing a blank here, I think that’s about it. I am also saying this because you are asking me. I think like many people I respond more to work individually and I find it very sexy for some time.

What is the sexiest piece of literature that you have read?

I love Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar, I find it very very sexy. Lots of poetry is very sexy actually, poetry of E.E. Cummings, Emily Dickinson and almost most of ancient erotic Indian poetry I find it very very sexy.

Three unsexy foods

Baigan, which I hate

Mashed potatoes

Dhokla, I get very depressed when people get dhokla

And you know what’s really unsexy, like it’s a make or break for me, it’s ordering biryani at a party. Or maybe veg manchurian trumps it. You can order American chopsuey, it’s my guilty pleasure.