In a candid conversation with Rohit Pramar, director Sridhar Rangayan opens up about the film, LGBT community in India, the censor board and Karan Johar…
Filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan’s much acclaimed drama film The Pink Mirror (Gulabi Aaina) is now available on Netflix for the audience world over, including India. The film, which is said to be the first film to comprehensively focus on transsexuals in India, explores the taboo subject of transsexuals in India which is still much misunderstood and ridiculed. It has screened at more than 70 international film festivals and won couple of awards.
After more than ten years, the film is finally releasing in India. How do you feel?
Gulabi Aaina had run its run at the film festivals and it was also screened at several places so it was a pretty good experience. But of course, we had also moved on. The film was refused the censor certificate three times and we felt that we didn’t want to go through the process of applying again. A lot people suggested us to file a court case but how much can you go on with one particular film? So we moved on. So this came as a surprise when we were approached by distributors that they would like to release the film on digital platforms.
Usually Netflix doesn’t distribute short films. It’s very rare that they do it. So we managed it to put it on not just Netflix but it’s also available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play worldwide so it’s a big thing for us. A lot of people wanted to see the film but didn’t know where. Now with internet, they can watch it anywhere. Of course a lot has been said about the film like it’s banned. But now when people will see it, they will release that it’s a good film. Thankfully, Netflix doesn’t require a censor certificate but some of the digital platforms still require it so it’s not available on iTunes in India. We are really happy that Netflix opened doors for us.
What do you think is the problem with the censor board in India?
I feel that the censor board works with a really old book. And that rule book has to be changed, keeping in mind the environment and current aspirations of the society. I just feel that they follow a really old book and they don’t want to change it. So there have been many questions, agreements and a lot of people even had fights. But recently Shyam Benegal and a few eminent people formed a tribunal and suggested a lot of recommendations to the censor board. The censor board has said they implement it but I don’t know when they implement it. If that happens, it will great because one of the suggestions says that one should not censor the film but rate it.
Tell us about film. How did it happen?
We shot the film in 2002 when the entire LGBT movement was still pretty much underground and nobody was really talking much about anything. So at that point of time, we were doing television. We were working for Zee TV and couple of other channels. But there were no slot for us. There was absolutely nowhere a show in sync with the LGBT community where we could do it. We did try purpose the idea to couple of channels but nothing came out of it.
Everybody said, ‘Oh we’re a family channel!’ and we don’t have this kind of content. So we said fine, we will do it ourselves. So my friend Saagar Gupta and I formed a company called Solaris Pictures and we decided to produce LGBT content. So Gulabi Aaina was our first film and after that we have continuously been producing LGBT content and even documentaries.
The film is inspired by a lot of real incidents and friends from the community where we would have drag queens and gay men having a get together. Sometimes we would even have such parties at our place and that’s how the idea came up. In the film, we have tried to show that drag queens and transgender are not some weird characters who we supposed to make fun of. But ultimately they’re also human beings who live among us and are very lovable.
The idea behind the film was to show how fun-loving and wonderful drag queens are, but also show how warm and loving they are. How they form alternate families and how they love and support each other. The film is about how important is to talk about HIV Aids because nobody was talking about it at that point of time. It was really difficult to get characters for some of parts like many actors didn’t want to play a bisexual character. We even shot it underground and only the crew members were informed about the shoot. We did it very quietly without anybody’s knowledge. So it was very challenging.
Bollywood often ridicules gay characters and makes fun of the LGBT community. What do you have to say to them?
I feel films do mirror social perceptions and rarely do we have films that push the boundaries beyond what’s existing in society. So obviously LGBT have been ridiculed in the society so those characters existed. With Gulabi Aaina, we tried to turn the tables. Even though it’s a sensitive film, it’s a comedy film. It’s very campy and fun because we wanted to laugh with the characters, and not laugh at them. The characters are sure campy and loud in the film but they enjoy being themselves.
They are not being apologetic about it. So filmmakers should make sure that such characters are true to real life. Not all gay men are muscular or effeminate; they’re all a part of a community. But what the problems is that we portray only one type of character. So filmmakers should try maintaining diversity.
Even in the community there are bad men so I am not saying you cannot show a gay man bad. The mainstream cinema lacks diversity and rounded approach. But I believe it has changed of late. We don’t see such characters as often. But of course, there have been horrible jokes on gay men in films like Housefull and Great Grand Masti. It’s really ridiculous and distasteful. It must change.
Of late a lot has been written about Karan Johar’s sexual orientation. Do you feel that he needs to come out?
I feel people should come out when they’re ready and feel comfortable with themselves. But the fact that if somebody likes Karan Johar who has a huge following comes out, it will be an inspiration for many people in India.
Of course, it’s his personal choice. But it will be great if people own up to their sexuality and said it loud and clear. Nobody can be jailed for just being gay or even having an LGBT event. We have Kashish Queer Film Festival every year with permission from government. One should not spread fear.