Films: Pride, Not Prejudice

Indie filmmaker Tushar Tyagi’s award-winning LGBTQIA+ short film hits streaming platforms in Pride Month
Indie filmmaker Tushar Tyagi believes that cinema is a medium of social change
Indie filmmaker Tushar Tyagi believes that cinema is a medium of social change
Published on Jun 18, 2022 12:30 AM IST
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When 21-year-old computer engineer Tushar Tyagi left Meerut for New York, not even he could have predicted what the future held for him. He joined the New York Film Academy and today at 32, Tushar Tyagi is a filmmaker with over a dozen titles to his credit.

“My maternal grandmother is the reason I’m in films. When I was very young she used to tell me stories and I would close my eyes and imagine them taking place,” says Tushar. “When I was in middle school, I began writing stories to overcome my loneliness. My English teacher happened to read one and she started motivating me to write more.”

As he grew up, the desire to bring his stories to life lead him to choose cinema as his medium of expression.

It is a career choice Tushar never regretted. His 2014 film Gulabee, the story of a prostitute fighting the devils of her past, won him a Royal Reel award at the Canada International Film Festival. Hari (2015), about the trials and tribulations of a young priest, won the best screenplay award at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival and the LA Short Awards in 2016. A Broken Egg (2017) deals with teenage pregnancy and was part of the Cannes Short Film Corner 2017. His 2018 film Kaashi traces the life a poverty-stricken teenage girl and brings forth the dearth of basic necessities in rural India.

However, the filmmaker has steered clear of commercial Hindi cinema. “I would consider myself a crossover director who tells Indian stories from an American lens. I see myself following the lead of Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta. Their works as well as that of Zoya Akhtar had a huge influence on me while I was growing up.”

Policies and pay-offs

Tushar’s poignant short film Saving Chintu did the festival rounds before getting its OTT release this month. With a runtime of about 25 minutes, the story details the struggle of a gay American couple navigating the Indian adoption policy that is discriminative towards the LGBTQIA+ community. “It came as a huge shock to me to learn that, in India, a gay couple can’t adopt a child. I’m not talking about just Indian citizens. Even gay couples from countries where gay marriages are legal can’t apply! The Indian authorities don’t entertain their petition,” Tushar points out.

The film was nominated for multiple awards across multiple film festivals, with actor Sachin Bhatt bagging the Best Actor award at the DFW South Asian Film Festival in Dallas. “The journey so far has been very humbling,” says Tushar. “We went to almost 30 film festivals, including the Oscar and BAFTA qualifying film festivals. Before the pandemic hit, the film played at physical film festivals. Experiencing the audience’s reaction in person was heart-warming!”

This still from Saving Chintu show actors Edward Sonnenblick (left) and Sachin Bhatt
This still from Saving Chintu show actors Edward Sonnenblick (left) and Sachin Bhatt

Seeking the story

The story of the film evolved from the amalgamation of two separate real-life experiences. “The inception of the script came from a dinner conversation with my doctor back in LA in 2016. This world-class doctor had been adopted from India by his straight American parents. He had been suffering from malnutrition and various medical conditions, and his parents, along with the orphanage, had to produce fake documentation to be able to take him out of India for the medical attention he needed. I liked the story, but back in 2016, I’d shelved the idea as we have seen the same premise in quite a few movies before. But the script came to life after I met Jeremy and changed the angle of straight parents to gay prospective parents, and switched malnutrition to HIV.”

Tushar had met Jeremy at an ashram in Rishikesh. Jeremy had come to India after being diagnosed with HIV in Manhattan. When he learnt about the incredible discrimination the thousands of Indian kids who live with HIV face here, he decided to move to India and opened a shelter for them.

“Now, he takes care of around 45 HIV positive kids, most of whom have lost their parents to AIDS. The conversation with Jeremy made me think about how it would change the script if the HIV angle was introduced,” Tushar reveals. “We as a society are so stigmatised by the words HIV or AIDS that a vast majority of us don’t even know the difference between being HIV positive and AIDS. During the research for this film, I spoke to people from various walks of life and was quite taken aback by the ignorance of the so-called woke brigade of millennials and Gen-Zs regarding HIV.”

The voice of the unheard

With the making of films telling the stories of the LGBTQIA+ community, Indian cinema is finally coming of age, Tushar believes. “Filmmakers have a huge responsibility to make stories that don’t stereotype the community. We need to understand that writing LGBTQIA+ stories without the knowledge of the community or the issues people from the community face could have severely damaging repercussions. The good way to deal with this situation is to have queer writers in your writer rooms who have lived experiences and can tell the stories authentically.”

From HT Brunch, June 18, 2022

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    Ananya Ghosh is an assistant editor with Hindustan Times Brunch. She has 10 years of experience as a journalist having worked as a copy editor/feature writer in various publications.

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