Hi, am forwarding an Interview of Sridhar Rangayan that appeared in
Society magazine


Society Magazine | June2010

Pages 66 - 70


"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

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

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.

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