Sridhar Rangayan – My Film is Not Just a Coming Out Film, It’s a Film About the Subjugation Women Face in Patriarchal Societies

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Sep 18, 2018
by Oscar Tollast
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Sridhar Rangayan – My Film is Not Just a Coming Out Film, It’s a Film About the Subjugation Women Face in Patriarchal Societies

Filmmaker discusses his latest film Evening Shadows and the impact the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum has had on his career Sridhar Rangayan pictured at Salzburg Global Seminar in 2015 during the first-ever program of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum

Sridhar Rangayan has given a voice to social issues in India for more than two decades. The filmmaker, writer, activist, and festival director has won multiple awards all over the world and is someone at the forefront of the queer cinema movement. Earlier this year, he presented at TEDxNITKSurathkal, at his alumni college, discussing his journey to coming out proud and accepting his individuality. Rangayan, a participant at the first ever program of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum, recently spoke with Salzburg Global to discuss his latest film.

Salzburg Global spoke with Rangayan prior to India’s Supreme Court overturning a colonial-era law known as section 377 – a victory for India’s LGBT community. This decision has decriminalized same-sex sexual relations between consenting adults in private. Following this historic ruling, Rangayan got in touch with Salzburg Global again to add his thoughts.

Rangayan said, “The Supreme Court verdict reading down the colonial law Sec 377, and thereby decriminalizing same-sex sexual relations between two consenting adults in private, is a historic decision by the highest court in India. The judgement far exceeded our expectations - the wordings in the judgement by all the judges, and also the firewalls they have built so no one can challenge the decision ever - these made the entire LGBTQ community very elated. It is still sinking in, that we are now living in a free India and not considered criminals because of our sexual orientation. It would impact the coming generations of LGBTQ youth and pave way for other rights - marriage rights, inheritance and adoption rights.

“The change in law is just the first step, because in India we have to work towards changing social mindsets. We would have to put into motion numerous advocacy projects and my work is cut out to make more films like Evening Shadows and fight to have them seen by a large audience.”

The Q&A with Rangayan below has been edited for length and clarity.

Salzburg Global: Can you explain the thought process behind Evening Shadows and what inspired the story?

Sridhar Rangayan: We always felt that there was no mainstream film that youngsters can show their parents as a means of helping them understand their true feelings and also for families to understand more about their LGBTQ children…

Evening Shadows is a personal story of one family that is coming to terms with the challenges of acceptance, but the story is universal in its sensibility and emotional reach. The film is more than a coming out film. It is about a woman steeped in traditions and conservative social mores, standing up for her son against all the odds. Evening Shadows is a film of hope and courage. The film has been made with a simple, heartfelt narrative with no auteur flourishes so it can appeal to a large family audience in India and across the world.

SG: When did the thought emerge to push ahead with the project and how long did it take to film?

SR: Fortuitously, our first film The Pink Mirror (Gulabi Aaina) made in 2002 got sold to Netflix, and we came into some money which we decided to invest in Evening Shadows… Then we started crowdfunding for the project. We received amazing support from 180-plus contributors across the world. This support gave us the necessary impetus to push forward with the production of the film.

It took us about a year and a half to complete production and post-production. It was really amazing to get permission to shoot at the places we had visualized the film being set – the charming small town, the riverbank, the centuries-old temples… excavated from under the sand, the roads winding between paddy fields… some of them being archaeological monuments, which is a treat for the audiences…

SG: Regarding the feedback you’ve received so far, has there been a particular review that’s stood out or a comment that’s been made which has been stuck in your mind?

SR: The screening of Evening Shadows at KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival in May 2018 was one of the most amazing. It was the closing film, and it was a home audience, but the reaction far exceeded our expectations. There were some 1,100 people in the theater, and they clapped, cheered, cried, and emotionally reacted to almost every dialogue in the film. It was an uproar, a rollercoaster of emotions that crescendoed and filled the huge art deco theater. It gave us all goosebumps; it still does.

Another very touching moment was - though sad - when a young Indian youth came up to me after the screening at Toronto and said, “I wish my mother was as understanding and accepting as the mother in your film. I have come out to her three years ago, and she hasn’t accepted me yet.” He hugged me and cried. I tried to assure him that Bollywood films have happy endings in a short span of time, but in life, happy endings may take a long time. I asked him to continue conversations with his mother gently and keep his hopes up.

SG: What messages do you hope audience members will take away from Evening Shadows?

SR: Evening Shadows is not just a coming out film of a gay youth, but also a film about the subjugation a woman faces within a patriarchal society… believe me, a dominant patriarchal mindset exists not only in Asian countries but also in many other cultures. The film is as much about women empowerment as it is about LGBTQ right to love. Most of the audience members are taking back this message, and we are glad. We would also like to underline the idea that the film is about the divide between two generations and their thoughts and ideas; how so many misunderstandings can arise from not accepting others’ points of view.

SG: Congratulations on the awards you’ve won for the film. What does it mean to have the film recognized and celebrated in different parts of the world?

SR: The awards are recognition of the narrative and technical excellence of our film Evening Shadows. They do mean a lot to the entire team as all of us have put in hard work and passion into this film. But the feedback and reactions by the audiences across the world have been the best awards we will always treasure. From an 80-year-old gay man in Kansas City, who has had an uphill struggle coming out in the ‘30s, to a young 18-year-old boy in Bengaluru who still faces similar challenges in India, the smiles, the tears and the hugs they have given are the best awards one can aspire for… the highest award is the thanks expressed by parents of LGBTQ children who watch the film and decide to embrace the child.

SG: When creating the film, was facilitating Sweekar – The Rainbow Parents support group something you anticipated doing?

SR: Evening Shadows, being a film about a son coming out and the challenges his mother faces in understanding him, the focus was always about the film being a support to parents and families. Facilitating a support group was a natural extension of this mission. Even when we began crowdfunding the film’s production, we had mentioned that we would earmark 10 percent of the money we raise to support the formation of a parents’ group… even as we progressed with the production of the film, we started the process of facilitating the group.

The Sweekar – The Rainbow Parents’ group – started off with a first-of-its-kind closed door daylong structured workshop with parents to chalk out what they thought were the challenges faced by parents and how a support group can help address these. The aims and objectives of the group and its mission statement emerged from this workshop formulated by the parents themselves.

SG: Please could you tell us about your experience at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum. What can you remember from your program, and what impact did it have on you?

SR: My participation at the first-ever Salzburg Global LGBT Forum program in 2013 couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. It was a time when I had founded the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and was building a good foundation for the festival, which now over nine years has become not only South Asia’s biggest LGBTQ film festival but also an important mainstream event in Mumbai’s cultural calendar.

Some of the ideas that all of us participants shared brought in a focus for the work I was doing. It also brought a lot of clarity to the two LGBTQ documentary films I was working on – Purple Skies and Breaking Free. Purple Skies about the Indian LBT community was completed in 2014 and went to play at many festivals and, more importantly, became the first-ever lesbian-themed film to be shown on Doordarshan, India’s national television network. My other film, Breaking Free, about the law section 377 and the Indian LGBT community was completed in 2015 and, among several awards, also won the National Award for Best Editing from the Government of India. These couldn’t have been possible but for the learnings at the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum about how important it is to work with the governments, policymakers, and stakeholders – instead of trying to work in opposition.

The diversity of the participants and the spectrum of the experiences make the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum unique and very useful in formulating a broader view of LGBTQ movements across the world. The other learning was about the intersectionality of religion and sexuality, which many participants from different faiths expressed so clearly at the program – how it is important to synergize the two so as to lead a fulfilling and peaceful life.

This learning will form the basis of my next feature film Songs of Eternal Love… of course, most importantly, the amazing location of the Salzburg Global LGBT Forum offered a tranquil atmosphere to meditate upon one’s work and more crucially about one’s life.