See what’s playing on India’s first LGBTQ streaming service, PlanetOut
It was 2002. The court battle to decriminalise homosexuality was only a year old; it would be 16 years before the laws were finally changed. This was a time when films on LGBTQ themes — such as Mira Nair’s Fire, about two women in love — still sparked protests in the streets.
It was also the year Paul Colichman started learning more about India. His partner, actor-producer David Millbern, was shooting a mystery movie called Bokshu, the Myth with Irrfan Khan and Nandana Sen here. Over many late-night calls and long conversations, Millbern and Colichman spoke about the beauty of the country and the vibrancy and talent of its movie industry. Khan, in particular, was a strong influence on how they saw India.
The connection was rekindled in 2009 at the Academy Awards when Colichman and Millbern ran into Khan, who was promoting Slumdog Millionaire.
By then, Colichman had founded Here Media and started a successful LGBTQ-focused video distribution and TV channel in the US. The idea of doing something in India grew deeper roots.
Another decade would pass before any proposals were drawn up, and in that time India would be transformed. Pride parades mushroomed; a new, confident generation of LGBTQ persons stepped forth; and homosexuality was finally decriminalised in 2018, paving the way for a wider gamut of rights and expressions.
Now, Colichman’s Here Media and US-based Jungo TV have announced India’s first LGBTQ+ streaming service, PlanetOut (named for its US counterpart). “The idea is to foster positive images of LGBTQ+ people in India and give anyone with low self-esteem a direction in hope and achievement,” Colichman told Wknd.
The service is currently available in India on the MX Player streaming platform and the Jungo Plus app. “It is free for anyone to watch. We are in conversation with some telecom companies. Through our partnerships, we should be able to reach out to the full LGBTQ+ community in India,” says Shubhro Maity, vice-president for content strategy and marketing at Jungo TV.
In the US, the streaming platform PlanetOut, owned by Here Media, features talk shows, music, series and movies that are all queer themed. Here Media was launched by Colichman and others in 2004. Back then, Colichman says, he didn’t know if this content would reach queer people beyond the big cities. The idea of an LGBTQ channel was shocking to many cable network owners too. But once the service went live, he adds, letters began pouring in from across the US.
“We found that it was a game-changer. Young LGBTQ people grew up in a world of negative images. They were considered not empowered or ill. After all the progress made, we realised the power of images,” Colichman says.
At the heart of the success is strong, diverse content produced by Colichman and others. An early example, even before Here Media, was the 1998 Oscar-winning Gods and Monsters, co-produced by Colichman. Ian McKellen plays the British director James Whale, in this fictionalised take on his life. Whale was best known for the Frankenstein movies and, in the film, develops a delicate bond with his gardener (played by Brendan Fraser) in his later years.
More recent examples of Colichman productions include the 2008 Japanese film Departures, about a young man who finds his true calling as a mortician, after a failed but impassioned career as a cellist. And the 2007 sleeper hit Shelter, about a conflicted young surfer in California who is falling in love with his best friend’s brother.
As a gay man, Colichman says Gods and Monsters opened his eyes to the commercial and artistic possibilities of LGBTQ cinema.
“We thought, wow, this market must be really underserved. We realised we can get top-drawer people to work for us and that people want to be a part of this movement. For example, we got Brendan Fraser for a much lower price than he commanded at the time. It was pocket change for him but he still did it,” he says.
In the US, Here Media’s empire now spans print, TV, movies and digital media, all aimed at the LGBTQ community, and it’s been particularly successful in attracting advertising from luxury products and companies. “If you can unite business interest with cultural interest, it can really move things in a positive direction,” Colichman says.
In India, PlanetOut hopes to fan out into social media and dub content in local languages. “We want to be on as many platforms as possible,” says Maity.
Colichman has grander plans, of 30 million unique users by the end of the first year. “India is the best place (for such a platform) in the developing world because of a huge English-speaking population, cosmopolitanism, and excellent filmmaking skills,” he says.
Eventually, he hopes to be working with local stars on local plots set in cities and rural areas. “We have thousands of hours of content. We are going to discover what works in India. We are on a listening tour too, and the LGBTQ people of India will tell us what they want,” he says.
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