Hi, am forwarding an Interview of Sridhar Rangayan that appeared in Society magazine
~Nirmal~ Society Magazine | June2010 Pages 66 - 70 Quotes: "Me being gay does not conflict with me being a devout Hinduwho prays to God everyday or me being an India. All of them coexist and areintegral to my personality." "Where was Baba Ramdev all these years? Didn't he know thathomosexuals existed in India?Why didn't he cure all of them through yoga as he claims?" "Ever since the HC verdict decriminalising homosexuality,religious fundamentalists have been on every talk show screaming how bad gaymen and women are. They equate us to paedophiles, which is totallyunacceptable." A Flight For Freedom Gay activist andfilmmaker Sridhar Rangayan, in a free wheeling conversation with Society givesan insight into the current domain of homosexuality in India andblasts Baba Ramdev. By Tania Ameer Khan In a country where gays are relegated to the bracket ofSatan's descendants and homosexuality is often confused with paedophilia, hereis a man who is trying hard to make society more aware and sensitive towardsthe maligned and misunderstood community. "India is at a threshold where greatmany changes are happening rapidly. I wouldn't say that homosexuality isconsidered absolutely normal and that gay men and women are embraced with openarms but there definitely has been an acknowledgement of the fact that they doexist and that they do exist and that they are not the dregs of the society.This change has not come overnight. It has taken close to 20 years of constantadvocacy through various forums," says filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan in a passionatetone. Hailing from an engineering background and moving to theworld of `queer' films, this man made all the unexpected moves in his career. In1994 he attended a short course in film appreciation at Film and TelevisionInstitute of India, Pune. Thereafter, he apprenticed with eminent Indiandirectors like Sai Paranjpye on the film `Papeeha' and Dev Benegal on hisfeature `English August'. He also worked as an associate director for theserial `Dawn' which was aired on Star Plus. After his stint on the small screenhe decided to move to the world of cinema. In 2001 he founded his productioncompany Solaris Pictures along with his partner Saagar Gupta, a writer and artdirector. The company is perhaps the only production company in India tospecialize in production of gay themed films. Rangayan scripted, produced anddirected `India's first filmon drag queens'- `The Pink Mirror' which came nine years after India's firstgay film `bomGay' by Riyad Wadia. His sensitive and thought provoking filmsaddressing homosexuality have won him hosannas. Being an activists for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, andTransgender (LGBT) community, Sridhar has seen the change in the mindset ofpeople and he strongly feels that one of the potent ways he can possibly make adifference is through films. "One of the ways I feel attitudinal shift can bebrought about is through cinema. It may not be able to effect immediatesweeping changes, but it could be a slow and steady process. Smalls changes canlead to wider changes and it all starts by changing an individual's mindset.That's what I try to do through my queer films in a small way, butconsistently. In early 2000s when Indian television went through a `soap'change, and I realized there was not much space for interesting televisionwork, I started my own production company and our agenda was to make films thatmatter. But we didn't want to lose the focus on entertainment. So we came upwith a new idiom `Advotainment', a combination of advocacy and entertainment.All our films try to give out a social message while entertaining," he saysemphatically. His `queer' films include `The Pink Mirror (GulabiAaina)', `Yours Emotionally' and `68 Pages'. Solaris Pictures first production`The Pink Mirror' was a simple story of two transsexuals and a gay man tryingto seduce a handsome hunk. It is a typical comedy with lots of drama a comedywith lots of drama. While `Yours Emotionally' takes this one step ahead, bylaying bare the desires and dilemmas of gay men in India. And finally, `68 Pages' is afilm primarily about a HIV/AIDS counselor and how she helps her counseleesovercome or cope up with being HIV positive. It still has two prominent queerstrands. "Each one of my films hopes to take the dialogue about sexuality and societyone step further. My next film `Breaking Free' is about Section 377 thatcriminalized the queer community and how much of its repeal has affected thecommunity. With the legal change, has the community broken free or is it stillbound by shackles of society?", he questions, making a pertinent point. In his mid 40s, Sridhar is also an activist for the rightsof the LGBT community in India,and participated in `God Save the Queer' a talk show held at the `Movies ThatMatter' Festival in Amsterdam."This is a topic that is right now a flashpoint in India with several religiousleaders speaking strongly against the Delhi High Court verdict decriminalizinghomosexuality. I was happy to spotlight this issue at an internationalplatform. I mentioned there that `me being gay does not conflict with me beinga devout Hindu who prays to God everyday or me being an Indian'. All of themco-exist and are integral to my personality. Moreover, Hinduism has never beenintolerant about homosexuality, so why suddenly this hullabaloo?" he asks witha lot of vigour in his voice. Often homophobes use religion as a tool to denouncehomosexuality, and religious heads of all faiths coming together on a commonfront to condemn homosexuality is a common sight. "Ever since the High Courtverdict decriminalizing homosexuality, religious fundamentalists have been onevery talk show screaming how bad gay men and women were. They equate us topedophiles which is totally unacceptable," says Sridhar in a forceful tone. Also Sridhar is not scared to attack yoga gurus like BabaRamdev who has made tall claims about curing homosexuality. "The religiousleaders are beating on a tin drum, just to raise a ruckus. Where was BabaRamdev all these years? Didn't he know that homosexuals existed in India? Whydidn't he cure all of them through yoga as he claims? Why suddenly thisvigorous campaign only after we have staked our claim to freedom? It is justpure rabble rousing and trying to grab media eyeballs. It is such a shame thatthe religious leaders have to promote themselves by condemning others insteadof doing good work and help people. No religion preaches hate. These are someof the thoughts I shared with the audience at a talk show. Funnily enough, Iwas wearing a saffron shirt that evening!" he says with a naughty grin. Currently, the activist filmmaker is busy with his latestpassion which is a film festival that will combine his work as a filmmaker andas a gay rights' activist by intertwining both. `Kashish' MumbaiInternational Queer Film Festival promises to be India's biggest queer filmfestival. "With 110 films from 25 countries slated to be showcased over fourdays at two venues, `Kashish' intends to bring international queer cinema home.It also aims to put a spotlight on the emerging work being done in India," he saysproudly. Sridhar gives an interesting background on how awareness abouthomosexuality related issues spread. "From the underground movement in the1980s to the recent Queer Azaadi March in 2009 where thousands of gay men andwomen marched along with others supporters, the Indian gay movement has reallycome a long way. At the rally most gay men and women marched without a mask.That was a huge step forward, showing the comfort level that they possess. In1990s we could have only dream of it. Now it is a reality. Though there havebeen many changes, complete social acceptance is still to come by. But at leastthere is recognition that we exist and that we have a need to express ourproblems. Even today it is difficult for gay men and women to come out of thecloset," says he with a pensive note in his voice. Apart from social change, there is an urgent need to bringabout a change in laws and statuettes. Newspapers everyday carry sad storiesabout gay men getting tortured and harassed left, right and centre. "Even after15 years of togetherness, if my partner has no right over my assets, if wecannot have a joint loan, if we cannot buy a house together, if he cannot claimmy insurance when I die, what is the value and validity of our relationship?"he asserts. At the end of it, it is the fight for dignity, socialacceptance and honour. Finally in his plea for recognition, Sridhar says, "Ihope politicians, religious leaders, those who oppose us, listen to us with anopen mind. I am not saying they should give us `Munnabhai jhappis', but theyshould not look at us with hatred and derision. We are only asking for ourfreedom to express our love to those who want to be loved. We are only tryingto live our life with dignity." Sridhar is crystal clear about his views, and armed with thepower of unshakeable conviction, it won't take long in bringing about asocietal change when homosexuals will be given their due respect.