Film-maker and gay rights activist Sridhar Rangayan has won a National Award. But the crusade, he feels, is just getting started
We meet film-maker Sridhar Rangayan (53) on the eve of his birthday (April 2). He’s visibly upbeat. There’s reason to celebrate: he’s just won the National Award for Best Editing for his documentary Breaking Free (along with Praveen Angre; Rangayan also directed the film). And just days before that, he was selected to feature in British Council’s fiveFilms4freedom Global List of 33 people who are changing perceptions about the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community.
An activist for the last two decades, Rangayan has been a crucial figure for the community. He is a founder member of the Humsafar Trust and also edited the seminal gay magazine Bombay Dost. And while he has a background in technology and design, he switched to directing and producing television serials and, later, LGBT films. Some of his most acclaimed works include the documentary film 68 Pages (2007) and Project Bolo (2011), which consists of video interviews of LGBT personalities.
“My activities were triggered by what I saw around me. I was lonely as a teenager and didn’t know who to approach. When I started working at Bombay Dost, the aim was to reach out to young people, who might be living in a village in Mizoram or Kerala, and to tell them that they are not alone,” he says.
For Rangayan, a greater surprise than the National Award was getting selected for the Indian Panorama 2015 (a non-fiction film showcase). “It offered us recognition from the government. Considering Breaking Free is an LGBT film, we didn’t have a lot of hope. After that, we wanted to win the National Award,” says Rangayan.
Tell it as it is
Breaking Free collates archival footage, VHS tapes and photographs of events like the Pride March to narrate the history of the community over 20 years. Shot over seven years, Rangayan ended up with 400 hours of footage, which was shortened to a 82-minute-long documentary narrated by him.
“Breaking Free is a complete LGBT film. We didn’t sugarcoat the stories to make it palatable to the mainstream,” says Rangayan. Some of the stories left him shaken, he says, citing the example of Kokila, a transgender who was raped by goons in a park and subsequently molested by a policeman when she went to lodge a complaint.
But he also realised the privilege of being an ‘insider’ who people trusted: “People felt their stories were safe with me, that they wouldn’t be misused. It wasn’t easy for them to relive their stories, but the trust helped.”
Rangayan can empathise with the victims, as he himself underwent harassment. “In the documentary, I have spoken of being blackmailed and hit on many occasions by policemen. It was in my formative years when I was not so comfortable about my identity. Today, I can deal with such incidents,” he says.
The film-maker’s aim is to let mainstream audiences understand the plight of the community. He is currently looking to release Breaking Free in theatres or on a TV channel.
Rangayan admits that he lives with his films long after he has made them. “It takes me several years to make a film; I live with it for the next five years. Once the film is made — I start thinking of how to take it forward, what kind of dialogue to raise and how to make money,” he says.
Seven years ago, he started the LGBT film festival Kashish as a platform to nurture film-makers who make LGBT films. Towards that end, it offers cash awards, screens films at festivals worldwide and packages the films as DVDs. “If you make a good film that no one sees, then what’s the use?” he reasons. Significantly, 30 per cent of Kashish’s audience are not from the LGBT community.
“Many fans apply for leave just to be here; they sort of elope, leaving everything behind to attend,” laughs Rangayan. But he also admits that each edition has been a rollercoaster ride. “We are never sure if we are going to do the next edition,” he observes. Fittingly, while certain aspects of the festival have always been crowdfunded, Wishberry (the crowdfunding platform) is their partner this year and the theme is ‘seven shades of love’.
Apart from Kashish, he is busy with a feature film, Evening Shadows, a mother-son story, for which he will commence shooting by the end of the year in south India.
And while Rangayan is happy with the attention his films are bringing to the community, he feels there is a long road ahead: “There is visibility — people are coming out. But while there is tolerance, there is little acceptance. There is a lot of sloganeering saying I am proud that I am gay. I am not ashamed I am gay.”
Rangayan’s picks of 5 must-watch LGBT films
Director: Javier Fuentes-León
A moving film about the relationship between two men in a fishing village.
>Out In The Dark
Director: Michael Mayer
An edge-of-the-seat movie about a Palestinian guy who falls in love with an Israeli guy.
>The Way He Looks
Director: Daniel Ribeiro
A sensitive Brazilian movie about a visually impaired young guy’s coming of age story.
>A Perfect Ending
Director: Nicole Conn
A romantic comedy of errors about a middle-aged housewife and a high-priced female escort.
>Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish
Director: Rituparno Ghosh
The story of a choreographer considering a gender-reassignment surgery.