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A gay Muslim goes on the Haj to find out if he’s ‘Muslim enough'

Indian-origin filmmaker Parvez Sharma’s A Sinner in Mecca was arguably the film that garnered maximum buzz and controversy within the special section Made in India at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, which recently concluded in Toronto.

world Updated: May 08, 2015 07:55 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Indian-origin-filmmaker-Parvez-Sharma-foreground-films-himself-at-the-Masjid-al-Haram-for-his-documentary-A-Sinner-in-Mecca-Filming-at-the-Holy-Mosque-is-strictly-prohibited-HT-Photo
Indian-origin-filmmaker-Parvez-Sharma-foreground-films-himself-at-the-Masjid-al-Haram-for-his-documentary-A-Sinner-in-Mecca-Filming-at-the-Holy-Mosque-is-strictly-prohibited-HT-Photo

Indian-origin filmmaker Parvez Sharma’s A Sinner in Mecca was arguably the film that garnered maximum buzz and controversy within the special section Made in India at Hot Docs, North America’s largest documentary festival, which recently concluded in Toronto. It will play in European and American festivals through the summer. Ironically, though, Sharma, who directed, produced and shot critical parts of the film, is pessimistic about its chances of being shown on the big screen in India “anytime soon.”

“I hope it is, but I don’t think so given the current political climate,” he said in an interview, after the film’s third and final screening, each one sold out.

Sharma is gay and a devout Muslim. Those identities form the twin strands of the film, as he undertakes the Haj to deal with “this struggle I’ve had for at least the last 10 years whether I was Muslim enough and the only way to prove that was to go on the Haj, to get that stamp.” He also filmed the Haj, with his iPhone and two miniature cameras, in secret, since that is barred by Saudi Arabia and the ban enforced by the religious police.

However, the act of Haj in itself has drawn hate mail. "Even this morning I woke up to horrible email messages," he said. In fact, the organisers of Hot Docs gave Sharma additional security, in the form of a guard, during each of his screenings due to the threats.





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Another scene from the film A Sinner in Mecca. (HT Photo)

Sharma, who grew up in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh, and now lives in New York, said this film was his way of “coming out as a Muslim.” And as a filmmaker, he said, “My natural instinct is to film.” So, this film offers an intimate journey through the entire Haj, warts and all, that has never been seen before.

Sharma is a critic of the Saudis, who, he lamented had converted the holy city into a “Mecca Vegas”. But filming at the heart of that pilgrimage has riled many, as he said they complained, “How dare you film at the Kaaba; you’re sensationalising the Haj.”

Sharma doesn’t think his film will get accepted even into film festivals in India, let alone get a theatrical release. But he is hopeful that a news channel may screen it as it did his first film, A Jihad for Love.