My written task is taken from part 2, language and stereotypes. Day before yesterday when I went to the cinema hall, a particular incident saddened me, that was when a group of Trans genders were not allowed into the cinema theatre which was meant to be a “public place”. And this scene replayed in my mind for a number of times which made me think about the problems which the transgenders are facing. Throughout thousands of years, society has been proclaiming the idea of “correct” sexual behavior.
After the World War II, the concept of human rights emerged, and it changed society’s views on numerous issues. There are advocates for LGBT community who dedicate their lives to changing social attitude. Amongst a number of gay activists, director Sridhar Rangayan is one of the most prominent one. While Indians omit the topic of homosexuality, he makes films which boldly disclose effects of homophobia and claim that gays and transgenders deserve respect and dignity. Rangayan has made gay activism a part of his life journey, and his numerous projects aim to persuade people that LGBT community is a natural part of society. In Rangayan’s opinion, Indians need to understand that there is nothing wrong with being gay, and he encourages people to speak up about their identity. Although Indian government is reluctant to accept his point of view, the director is dedicated to continuing his work. So his works inspired me to take up my written task as an interview, because this structure helps me to achieve an interrogative tone and be more personal. This helped me to interlink the culture and language, in the following interview the tone of the interviewer tends to be brief and concise whereas the tone of the interviewee is nostalgic with diction of elongated and detailed. The language adopted in the interview is colloquial.
Hello, Mr. Rangayan thank you for being with us today
Pleasure is mine.
Mr. Rangayan, what inspired you to become a gay activist?
While I was growing up as a gay teenager, I realized how sensitive this topic was to our society. In India, being a part of LGBT community is shameful, and people avoid discussing it. Certainly, I could not accept it. This attitude affects so many people, and I feel it is my duty to do something about it. Simply being gay does not oblige you to become an activist, and, as Breaking Free documentary proves, many gay people focus on their professional goals, pursuing careers of doctors, writers, and poets. I assume the desire to be an activist is a part of my personality; I simply cannot stop doing what I do.
What were your first steps?
In 1994, Ashok Row Kavi, a prominent Indian journalist, has founded a Humsafar Trust in Mumbai. Among LGBT film festival, this NGO provides people with counselling services, healthcare, and safe zones. Its wider goal is fighting discrimination against LGBT communities. I participated in this organisation since the date of its creation, and it provided me with valuable experience. In 1999, I started issuing Bombay Dost, India’s first magazine for gays. At that time, I was working on the television, making TV shows. They were soap operas, and I wanted to add new aspects to these super mainstream projects. My idea was to film episodes about gay men, and the producers did not allow me to do it. And suddenly I realised that someone has to make LGBT a part of mainstream culture. Why drag queens cannot be the characters of a romantic comedy?
However, not all your films are romantic comedies. You also made documentaries, didn’t you?
Yes, I find both ways of storytelling appealing to me. My first film about gay people, The Pink Mirror, was a mixture of entertainment and advocacy. It is directed in a kitschy, very Bollywood manner. Its characters dance, sing, and tell jokes, but, at the same time, they are dealing with personal drama, and the audience feels sympathy to their troubles. This method allows making transgenders a part of the mainstream culture and starting the discussion. Breaking Free has a different approach. It is a documentary which features 20 gay people. They all come from different Indian states; they have different background and occupation. All of them share their unique experience of being gay in homophobic society. You know, although the government claims that the discriminating law does not make a big difference, the police misuses it, threatening and attacking LGBT people. In Breaking Free, people are openly talking about the violence, hatred, and tortures. These shocking testimonies encourage the audience to discuss the issue.
How government and society react to your films?
Well, as I told you before, the TV producers were not fond of my idea to make gay characters a part of soap operas. My first important project, The Pink Mirror, remains banned in India, although it was filmed in 2003. Despite the Central Board of Film Certification claimed it to be “offensive,” it gained a lot of support in other countries. It was screened at numerous film festivals and won two awards. It is interesting that my documentaries, Purple Skies and Breaking Free, received certificates without any cuts. Moreover, Purple Skies was broadcasted by Doordarshan, a government-owned service. The audience also surprises me sometimes. Once, we were screening a film in a college in Delhi. The teacher who invited us allowed the audience (about 120 people) to free the room if they were not comfortable with watching a film about gay love. I was thrilled to see about 90 people stayed, and we had an interesting discussion afterwards. Overall, I feel that Indian society gradually becomes more gay-friendly, and I am optimistic about the future of LGBT community.
What are your advices for the youngsters in our society?
Since I was a youngster, I have been seeing a society which discriminates every gender based on their habits, professions and actions, a society which judges you for every action of yours. The people are the social animals who reckon the society, and today’s youngsters are tomorrow’s citizens. So I hope this generation would have a broader mind and do not judge people depending on their sex or religion but rather according to their deeds. No religion in this earth is against love, it is we humans how have started barricading people on various basis. So I hope this current generation would rise for the occasion and accept every gender, religion, cast, creed and do not criticize any human. I wish there would be one day when the race would be humanity and religion would be love.
Today there are many rights being provided to the LGBT’s around the world after many years of struggles and protests. What is your say on this Mr. Rangayan?
In West, social values have changed dramatically, making LGTB’s life easier. Unfortunately, these changes did not occur in every part of the world. Many countries strongly rely on their traditions, cherishing the old lifestyle and social norms. India, the state with more than billion population, is also on this list. This country is well-known for its history and traditions. However, while India is relying on its roots, local LGBT people struggle with homo- and trans phobia. Homosexuality is a crime there, and this law endangers the safety of millions in this country. So as I was telling you I hope this democratic government of ours whose constitution states that no individual on the basis of gender, religion, sex would be discriminated, will ensure that the gay marriages are legal and hope every person would be treated with dignity and respect.
We thank you once again for sharing you valuable time with us and also wish that India would become a country where every citizen is given equal rights.