In the era of cultural resets and global crisis, with an endless sea of celebs and A-listers making powerful statements on both social media and the streets, it is hard to know who is authentic - but as soon as I hop on a call to interview Celina Jaitly Haag, the feeling is instant. We’re chatting away on Zoom, now that IRL interviews are something dreams are made of, and Celina looks effortlessly chic with a killer cat-eye look and a monochromatic turtle neck.
Talking with us from her cosy home in Austria, the former Cosmopolitan cover star is keeping herself busy these days with movie promotions for her latest flick, Seasons Greetings, and making LOL-worthy TikTok videos with her three adorable kids (and Peter Pyaari, her alter ego), who were all born in Dubai. “It is a character I’ve always wanted to play in a movie," she says when we ask her about Peter. "You see, comedy has always been my forte. It all started with a small video that jumped straight to 90,000 views. And, that’s how she came about, so that people could see more of her”.
Born to a Punjabi-Hindu father and Afghan-Hindu mother, V.K and Meeta Jaitly, and married to Austrian hotelier Peter Haag, the 38-year-old’s life is a rich blend of multiculturalism. “Dubai is the only place that I’d call my home because it is where I met my husband, gave birth to two sets of twins, and it is also the last place my mother visited before she passed away. And, I celebrate the fact that it has intercultural families like ours, which is the epitome of globalisation,” muses Celina. She further believes that children from multicultural families look at the world as one, blurring divisions of colour and religion. And, with UAE being a hub of diverse communities, “it is the best place to bring up a family like ours because they can associate with children like themselves,” she adds.
Dubai has also given Celina her most recent critically-acclaimed film, Seasons Greetings. Hearing the script from director Ram Kamal Mukherjee in the car parking of The Dubai Mall, the actress instantly agreed to be part of it. The movie is an eclectic and tasteful take on a cause close to her heart, the LGBTQ+ community. Celina says, “I was going through severe depression at the time [due to the passing of her mother and a new-born child]. One of the last conversations that I had with my mumma was about returning to the cinema. So, this was ringing in the back of my mind when Ram said that the movie deals with the mother-daughter relationship in a very contemporary way. It felt like some sort of divine intervention."
Marking her comeback to the silver screen after eight years, Celina says she prepped for the short film by disconnecting with the world. She moved to a hotel a month before the shoot and immersed herself in the role by attending several languages and cultural workshops for an organic look and feel that the movie delivered. “We did a lot of crazy stuff to stay true to the characters,” recalls Celina. “One of the most difficult things was to smoke a cigarette and make it seem like I’ve been a smoker all my life. And so Ram and I smoked a carton, and he would tell me how to hold it and relax my hand. I think we smoked for two hours and I remember I was very sick that day.”
The 45-minute picture tackles the subject of love in all its different forms but, most importantly, the dynamic relationship between a mother and daughter and heterosexism. Realised during a global pandemic when people are staying indoors, Celina hopes that the gentle poetry, music and graceful approach to relationships will leave the viewer’s mind refreshed. “Since its release, we’ve received tons of messages from couples who are in inter-racial and inter-religion marriages along with messages from the LGBTQ+ community saying how much they’ve connected with it,” she gushed.
The motion picture also marks a highlight in the actress’ 20-year (an counting) journey as an activist. Celine began as her philanthropic journey when she became the first Indian actress to lead the Pride parade in Mumbai to UN’s Free and Equal champion, and now, the Bollywood star aims to bring up the next generation with an accepting attitude towards people’s differences by respecting their boundaries, individuality and background through her tireless efforts towards the pride community.
“Each of us has a unique part to play in the healing of the world. And, that can begin at home by nurturing the next generation to being open and accepting. Gender-neutral parenting focuses on fostering skills and traits that all humans should grow up with, so that then they'll be successful no matter what society is saying they should or shouldn't do. Talking about gender identity as a matter of fact daily conversations can help”, Celina explains.
“As a family we love reading; Peter and I’ve always made an effort to have books with illustrations of minority families. Our goal is for our children to not only understand basic information about LGBTQ+, identity but discipling them to speak the truth in love and compassion to those around them who identify as non-gender nonconforming”.
Celina Jaitly exclusively for Cosmo Middle East
Celina leaves us with one last powerful thought: love is love. "Nobody wants to be treated differently," she says. "We are not standing up for a different subset of rights, the LGBTQ+ community wants the same rights, the same love, the same respect and the same privileges as promised to every other individual in an organisation or a country. So the choice is yours, which side of history do you want to be on?"