Out of the closet, on the screen
Filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan has made films on the LGBT community before, but his current self-funded documentary — Breaking Free, which releases at the end of this year — seeks to answer some questions a typical heterosexual individual often mumbles to himself/herself. “What is the LGBT community’s problem? What is it that they want? — that’s what I’ve been hearing about the LGBT community for years now. Breaking Free is the answer to all these questions,” says Rangayan.
For the LGBT community in India now, he adds, issues are events “either pre-377 or post-377”, given how much the 2009 Delhi High Court judgement which decriminalises homosexuality changed for LGBT individuals in India. “But you’ll be surprised how ignorant even the community is — not many know what their rights are,” says Rangayan. Breaking Free will chart the community’s tryst with the law, the law makers and the law breakers, which, more often than not, is the police itself, he says.
Still from the documentary Breaking Free
“Breaking Free is a 70 minute-long documentary about people’s stories, advocates, activists and homophobic individuals and what their view is about the LGBT community today. The most important aspect of the film is the way the lives of the LGBT community have changed since 2009 — politically, socially and personally.”
Rangayan is currently in Bangalore to shoot the film’s last few moments. He will then head to Chennai to find more stories, before releasing the film by December. “One major issue I’ve been keen to discuss is the rampant blackmailing the LGBT community goes through in India. The other is how Internet dating sites and forums for the LGBT individuals means more freedom to date and find partners, but the aspect of abuse and harassment is often overlooked,” says Rangayan.
Another change Rangayan has noticed since 2009 is the sudden voice and aggression religious leaders seem to have found after the reading down of Section 377. “Do you remember anyone discussing homosexuality and religion before homosexuality was decriminalised? I don’t. Now suddenly, religious leaders thought they could gain some mileage from this issue and you see columns saying how homosexuality is as old as religion itself.”
One of the people Rangayan spoke to for Breaking Free is Kokilaben, a Bangalore-based transgender who was rounded up by the cops much after the 2009 judgement and was arrested for engaging in ‘criminal activity’ under Section 377. “Kokilaben was violated, and the cops pressed a hot wire against her breasts. I am trying to see what happened to the people who were abused because of the law,” says Rangayan. There was another case in Bangalore, he adds, where a transgender women who dresses up in a man’s attire was asked to strip by a fellow customer in a restaurant to prove she was a woman. “Later, the cops who arrived at the scene demanded the same thing. Tell me, where is the law and where are the upholders?”
Breaking Free will also speak to those who have managed to break free of the system. “The 11 mothers who signed the SC petition to support their homosexual children are part of the documentary, too.” Change, says Rangayan, will take its own time, but voices and stories must be shown to the world — and now — so they aren’t forgotten.