“In India, making a film about gay issues, which is honest and sensitive and without any mainstream actors, is not easy,” says filmmaker and activist Sridhar Rangayan.
Rangayan has been involved in making films with queer subjects for a while now, and is currently working on a new film called “Evening Shadows.” It is an honest and realistic exploration of what it’s like to be queer within a conservative middle-class family. But Rangayan is having a hard time finding financial support, which is why he has launched a crowdfunding campaign.
The film, which revolves around how a mother deals with her son’s coming out, isn’t an uncommon one, and yet, it’s revolutionary for Indian cinema, which hardly ever sees traditional family structures accept queer identities. “The main concept is that when you come out of the closet, you’re pushing your mother into the closet because she’s not able to share that secret with anybody else,” says the filmmaker, “And it’s about the mother as well as the son. This character is a small-town housewife, subjugated in a patriarchal set-up, and you see her eventually becoming empowered by breaking out of prejudice.”
An IIT Bombay alum, Rangayan’s relationship with Indian film and television spans a decade, and he has engaged with both commercial and independent projects, and co-founded The Hamsafar Trust, India’s first gay NGO, in 1994. He has been working on “Evening Shadows” for over 7 years now, but in the aftermath of the 2013 Supreme Court Verdict which criminalized homosexuality, he realized how important this film can be.
“We had to make it, and make it now,” he says, because the story is extremely crucial when it comes to breaking the silence around sexuality and having conservative families understand it’s nuances better. “Because of Section 377, most parents feel that their gay children are doing something illegal and it’s really important that we reach out to these parents to say that here, this is what your son or daughter feels like and this is what they go through to come to terms with it.”
Though positive and realistic queer representation was earlier only possible in relatively obscure independent Indian films, now it is slowly but surely finding its way to larger audiences. In the past couple of years, quite a few big-screen Hindi releases have had characters that were bisexual, or gay, or lesbian (“Margarita With A Straw,” “Aligarh,” “Parched”), and yet, finding support for a film that focuses solely on queer issues or queer characters remains a struggle.
When it comes to a film like “Evening Shadows,” which tackles homosexuality head-on and doesn’t have big names associated with it, translating it into the mainstream becomes difficult. “Either you have to be really subtle like in ‘Kapoor and Sons’ where you hardly can make out the character’s queerness because it’s barely explored in the film,” he laments, “or it has to be like in ‘Angry Indian Goddesses,’ where one of the characters is a lesbian, but the entire film is not about that.”
This is a worrying dichotomy — the films that do go mainstream aren’t able to flesh out queer storylines, and the films with well-fleshed out queer storylines aren’t able to go mainstream. But Rangayan is optimistic that a film like “Evening Shadows” will find a larger audience, despite his concerns about financial backing, adequate theatrical distribution or marketing. “It’s ultimately a sensitive story about a family, and we want families to watch the film without flinching in any way.”
“I think there are enough people who want to know what all this is about; about coming out, homosexuality and so on. ‘Evening Shadows’ is not just a ‘gay film’, it’s about people trying to understand the diversity of identities different from theirs, and that’s what we hope will appeal to the audience,” Rangayan concludes.
The crowdfunding campaign has just under a month to meet its target, and with people’s support, Rangayan will be able to finally release this film.