Coming into his own
“I don’t have a coming out story to tell,” says Mozez Singh, director of the 2016 Vicky Kaushal-starrer, Zubaan. Sitting in his book-stacked Bandra house, Singh’s references range from Moonlight to Mast Kalandar as he speaks about the LGBTQIA+ community, the community he belongs to. Growing up in Delhi, his is not a story of rejection and isolation. “My friends mostly knew that I was probably gay and when I told my parents, they were more supportive than I could have imagined,” says the Doon School alumnus who credits his years in America as his true coming of age period.
“My turning point was going to Boston to study business and political science. After that I moved to New York where I worked in the music industry. America gave me lot of independence and it was self-discovery in the truest sense. I began to understand who I really am and what I wanted to do with my life,” he says. While working there and being on music video shoots, he found another love of his life. “It was a revelatory thing…how the camera brings stories to life. That is what got me interested in filmmaking!”
The closet story
Although Singh found his path, being gay was not only a taboo but legally a crime in India back then. “Today, as part of my new podcast, when I interact with so many other members of the community and hear their stories of struggle, I realise all the more how lucky I have been,” he says.
“What one does in the bedroom is a personal choice, but nonetheless it is absolutely important to come out. I hope there comes a time when coming out is not important, where no such thing as ‘coming out’ exists on this planet, but at this point in time today, it is extremely crucial to come out. Because coming out helps you blossom.” That’s because, unless a person acknowledges and accepts her or his own identity, s/he can never reach her/his full potential as an individual. That is what coming out did to him.
“Being in the closet oppresses you, it suppresses you, and you can’t be the person you are. Being LGBTQIA+ is an integral part of your identity and your personality. It is a lifestyle as well. It is very important for LGBTQIA+ people to express themselves in their truest and most authentic way.”
When you come out, he says, you are empowered. “By doing so, you acknowledge your truth in front of the world. And I think there is no bigger power than being able to be who you are.”
Singh has recently become a show host and anchor with Amazon Audible’s upcoming podcast talk show, Azaad Awaz. Produced by Guneet Monga of Sikhya Entertainment, the podcast puts the spotlight on the LGBTQIA+ community. “Everybody has something to say. The LGBTQIA+ community has been marginalised for so long and is just finding its voice. So it is important for the community to have such platforms, the more the better. And this is not another celebrity driven show,” he elaborates. “Everybody has a story to tell. Here we have stories of regular people; it is the story of the human spirit.”
Marginalised today, mainstream tomorrow
Last year’s landmark judgment that decriminalised homosexuality was a turning point for the community. “At least it is no longer a criminal act. That in itself is huge step forward. But there are many many battles to be fought…gay marriage, child right, inheritance laws, etc. A long journey still remains, but at least we are on the journey,” he points out.
But he is optimistic. “The conversations going on today are amazing. It is beginning to normalise things. Being LGBTQIA+ is no longer treated as something subversive or fringe. I think the community needs to be treated as normal. There should be no separation. My whole endeavour is to make it so normal that it stops becoming a talking point,” he states.
“I think films are a great mirror and can be conversation starters. I think with so many people working towards telling honest stories, the stereotypes will start to diminish and we will start to deal with real people. It doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter, and it will not matter if the person identifies as LGBTQIA+. There will be a time when we won’t need these tags like a LGBTQIA+ movie/podcast.”
A world without tags
Although he considers his role as a talk show host as something more personal than just a job, he thinks it is not imperative that all his creative endeavours should be focused towards the LGBTQIA+ community. “At the end of the day, everybody needs to tell stories that are true to them. Today I might want to tell a story of an LGBTQIA+ person, tomorrow I might choose to talk about something entirely different. It is all about which story you connect to. I don’t think it is necessary for LGBTQIA+ people to only make movies that are only about them or about the community. My first film, Zubaan, had nothing to do with the community. My next is set in the LGBTQIA+ space because that is the story I want to tell now. My third film might be entirely different,” he says.
He also busts the ‘own voices’ principle: the belief that only people who have experienced things for themselves have the right to tell stories about them. “It is not imperative for anybody belonging to a community to only talk about that community. For example, why should female filmmakers only talk about women’s issues? Also, I don’t think a person from the community is better equipped to tell their story. If you have seen Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight (2016), it is the most beautiful, evocative coming-of-age movie of a gay boy, and it was made by the straightest of straight filmmaker. Even I was surprised that he got the nuances so spot on. I don’t think as a filmmaker or a story teller, you need to live the experience to tell a particular story. A person making an incredible film on the Italian mafia might have nothing to do with it – hopefully!” he laughs.
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From HT Brunch, December 15, 2019
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