When Sridhar Rangayan began making films on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues eight years ago, it was a rough ride from start to end. Producers were a rare find, good actors would shy away, the LGBT community was largely hesitant to talk before the camera, and audiences existed only at film festivals.
But in 2009, things began to change. “The openness towards these films has come after the reading down of section 377 (of the Indian Penal Code),” said Rangayan referring to the Delhi high court’s order which decriminalised homosexuality.
“Discussing gay, lesbian and transgender issues is no longer a taboo, and this manifests in our films as well.”
As a result, when the two-year-old Kashish-Mumbai International Queer Film Festival opens to mainstream city audiences on May 25, Rangayan, the festival director, will screen 21 new Indian LGBT films. Some of the films, such as Onir’s I Am, were commercial releases with established actors, and the festival has landed a corporate sponsor.
In the past two years, members of the LGBT community saw the rise of a whole new breed of filmmakers choosing LGBT subjects for short documentaries or narrative films.
“These are small-budget independent films and it’s not just LGBT artistes making them – many of the movies have been made by amateurs and film students around the country,” said Vivek Anand, chief executive officer of the non-profit Humsafar Trust that has partially funded I Am.
LGBT activist Adele Tulli, made a documentary, 365 without 377, while working with the team organising the Azad Maidan rally to celebrate the anniversary of the reading down of section 377.
“LGBT issues are now increasingly coming to the fore, and this visibility is very important for sensitising our societies,” said Tulli. 365 without 377 will be screened at the four-day Kashish Festival.
Besides, filmmakers and actors, audiences too have warmed up to the idea of watching LGBT films in public. Last year, around 22% of the Kashish audience was not from the LGBT community, and organisers had to beg for multiplex venues.
This year, it was the multiplexes that approached them, and within four days of opening registrations, more than 200 people have already signed up as audience.
“If a few more films see commercial release and success, producers and corporates will open up and films will be made more easily,” said Anand.