Compared to the west, where acceptance of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community is gradually gaining hold, the Indian LGBT community has an arduous journey ahead. For every Pride March or film festival that celebrates their freedom of expression, we have instances of discrimination, rejection from society or laws that criminalise their identity.
Back in 1998, the Nandita Das-starrer Fire was one of the first mainstream Indian films to highlight homosexual relations and portray lesbian relationships in a sensitive manner. But the nationwide unrest that followed the release highlighted the prejudice towards the community. Subsequently, the actor also participated in events like Hijra Habba in Bengaluru (an event that celebrates the transgender community) and has often spoken on the subject.
This weekend, the actor-director will be part of a panel discussion, Pride and Prejudice, which explores the contribution of straight allies (heterosexual men and women) in the movement for equal rights. “For any society to grow, we have to take up each other’s causes and speak up for each other. It shouldn’t be that only women fight for women and those with disability fight for the disabled. For me, this is an issue of discrimination and oppression and I feel compelled to speak,” she says.
Looking back, Das admits that Fire had a tangible impact. “It provided a trigger, a reason to talk about these issues in the public domain. Fire helped me look at the issue with greater depth and sensitivity. It was a landmark film, one that I’m glad happened”.
Since then, there have been some films that have revolved around the community, but LGBT themes still don’t find widespread representation in Indian cinema. “The way an LGBT person is represented in a film, has to be more thoughtful, more true to reality, as opposed to stereotyping, or worse not having their presence at all,” laments Das, who was at the helm of protests over the Supreme Court’s ruling on Section 377 in 2013.
What is heartening, though, admits Das, is that young filmmakers, from mainstream and regional cinema alike, are exploring varied topics and telling stories that are honest and true. It can, perhaps, be pegged to growing dialogue on social media. Das credits it for “democratising people’s voices”. One can’t help but wonder how a film like Fire might have fared in today’s times of hashtags and tweets.
Das is also heartened by the public discussions and debates that are gaining momentum and helping boost the cause for equal rights. “The ultimate aim is to ensure everybody has the space and right to be who they are,” Das says. She signs off on a hopeful note wishing for a country where people are “progressive and mature enough to give people space and right to love each other”.
What: Pride and Prejudice — Building Alliances for a Better Tomorrow will be held on January 23, 3.30pm onward
Where: Auditorium (first floor), Godrej ONE, Vikhroli (E)