Article Hindi

Time for LGBTQ films to enter mainstream cinema: Panellists at Mumbai Film Festival

The panel discussion, headlined by directors Onir, Sridhar Rangayan and Vandana Kataria, also saw Rajit Kapur and host Rohini Ramnathan debate the future of LGBTQ cinema in a post Section 377 world. 

Shriram Iyengar

Describing a hilarious incident of a production executive for a web-series offering him a role, actor Rajit Kapur, at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival's panel discussion on 'Pushing The Envelope on LGBTQ Cinema in India', said, "Two months ago, somebody called me for a web-series, and surreptitiously mentioned 'This character is gay, you know?'. I am not concerned about that. My concern was what role does he play in your story, what does he do? But for that person, as a production executive, that was the only important thing to clarify." 

The actor was one of the panel members, which also saw directors Onir, Sridhar Rangayan and Vandana Kataria, and discussed the need for LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Transgender and Queer) cinema to come out from the shadows and enter the mainstream.

This seems a valid proclamation in view of the recent judgement by the Supreme Court of India to strike down section 377 and decriminalise homosexuality. 

Director Sridhar Rangayan, founder of India's first LGBTQ film festival, Kashish, said, "LGBTQ cinema is always pushed to the side. It is not considered mainstream. To break it into a commercial format, even if you have actors who are well known, even then it is considered a step-sister format." 

Rangayan also spoke about the challenges of trying to overcome the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) which is quick to certify any film with gay or lesbian component as adult, irrespective of its treatment of the theme. 

"When you have any film that has gay or lesbian content, it is termed an 'adult' film. Even if it has nothing, no cuss words, or sex, or violence. Now, even when we went to the CBFC for ratings for Evening Shadows, we were told this is a film about homosexuality, so it will be an adult film," Rangayan said, adding, "There are progressive people on the board, and the viewing groups, but the rulebook has still not changed." 

While he advocated the need for a theatrical release to 'reach out' to more people, Rangayan stated that it is a challenge to get people into theatre to see these films that are labelled as 'LGBTQ' films. However, the director said that it is important for the community to claim the labels as identity. 

However, Rajit Kapur and Vandana Kataria disagreed. Kataria, whose directorial debut, Noblemen, featuring Kunal Kapoor, tells a tale of a boy struggling to come out with his sexuality, said, "In the future, it better be a part of the mainstream. These are just stories of basic human emotions, which are the same across the board." 

However, Kataria also added that there are difficulties in distributing or screening such a film. "My producers are struggling to sell it because it is not a happy film about gay people." Describing her conundrum over the subject, Kataria said she had consulted several friends who were gay over whether the Supreme Court ruling made her film redundant. However, she said, "A lot of my friends said, this ruling does not mean anything because the society still has to change." 

Speaking of change, director Onir added that there are still several hangups among the industry members about the gay and lesbian community. The openly gay director has been one of the pioneers of the theme of sexuality with films like My Brother Nikhil (2005) and I AM (2011). However, Onir admitted he is still struggling to get the satellite rights sold for his last film, Shab (2017). 

Onir said, "The last couple of months have seen me doing a lot of corporate talks, and I have wondered why am I not seeing such excitement happening in the film industry. I remember the day Section 377 was taken down. I was hoping that I would get a satellite release for my film, Shab. I still haven't got the call. It is not just the ruling, but it is also about society. It is also about people in power who are programming, managing, and a lot of them are homophobic." 

The panel agreed that there has been a marked change in the number of films dealing with the subject over the years. Rangayan pointed out, "This year we have around 65 LGBTQ films screened in Kashish that were made in India. There are a lot of films being made, but are they being shown, or seen? You need a tag to claim it." 

Rajit Kapur, pointing to his own film, Do Paise Ki Dhoop Chaar Aane Ki Baarish, directed by Deepti Naval, said, "We also have to understand the social fabric of our country. It will take time for the change to come. But the law is the first step, and it is the most important step." 

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