Queer academicians R Raj Rao, Ashley Tellis on films and their impact on the community

“Shrinivas Siras was timid,” says R Raj Rao, professor of English at Pune University, on the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) professor, on whose life director Hansal Mehta’s film `Aligarh’ which releases today is based

“Shrinivas Siras was timid,” says R Raj Rao, professor of English at Pune University, on the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) professor, on whose life director Hansal Mehta’s film `Aligarh’ which releases today is based.

Read Review: 'Aligarh'

A still from the movie Aligarh
A still from the movie Aligarh

Presently the head of English Department at Pune University, Rao says, “My writings and straight forward approach has helped me in establishing myself as a dedicated academician. If my life were only about my sexuality, my students wouldn’t have respected me the way they do.”

Rishi in Johar’s Student of the Year, plays a gay principal drooling over a buff PT teacher
Rishi in Johar’s Student of the Year, plays a gay principal drooling over a buff PT teacher

Rao, who is due for retirement next year states simply, “I survived, Siras didn’t.” When Rao says that, he means surviving as an out gay professor in academia. Siras was sacked ostensibly because of his homosexuality. Author of a gay novel, ‘The Boyfriend’ in 2003, which is now being into a movie, Rao says that while Bollywood is very conservative and does not touch subjects that might put a dent in its revenue, movies like Aligarh are setting an example.

Also Read: Rajkummar Rao: Uncomfortable with cliche depiction of gay men in films

R Raj Rao, head of English Department, Pune University
R Raj Rao, head of English Department, Pune University

“A movie like Karan Johar’s Dostana cannot be classified as a gay film, despite having cashed in on using that as a hook. How Hansal Mehta has treated Siras’s story remains to be seen.”

'Aligarh' team in an exclusive interview: "Indian society is less homophobic these days"

Ashley Tellis, Associate Professor, The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, Chennai
Ashley Tellis, Associate Professor, The Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, Chennai

Ashley Tellis, the quirky gay rights activist who lectures on ‘same-sex politics’ at Chennai’s Banyan Academy of Leadership in Mental Health, known for tearing film director Karan Johar’s movies to shreds. In a newspaper review, Tellis had written about Student of the Year in a scathing piece called, ‘Shame on you, Karan Johar’ that, “It is because of films like Student of the Year that the homosexual has been reduced to a stock figure of the most homophobic, straight clichés in neo-liberal cinema,” Now he says about Aligarh, “Siras’s story was not about finding love, but of an old gay man, leading a double life, who was looking for sex and got punished for that. A movie on his life, glorified and romanticized to suit the palate of Indian audiences is in no way a tribute. Aligarh may be better than a sh***y film like Dostana, but it does not show the dark, true side of things, like the fight for basic, respectable living.”

Rao and Tellis’ opinions differ on what the movie will do for LGBT persons, but the community like everywhere else, does not always speak in one voice. The trenchant Tellis has his share of critics within the LGBT community, who label him as ‘self-victimizing.’ In an expletives-laden tirade, he said, “They can call me whatever the f**k they want, I am a victim, and I will f******g play the victim,” he signs off, in typical style.

Box: The Movie
Aligarh is a biopic based on the life of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) professor, Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who was fired from his job because of his sexual orientation and died a mysterious death. Siras was caught in a sting operation by a TV channel which showed him in a ‘compromising’ position with a rickshaw puller, at his house on campus.

Box

Yaariyan goes to Aligarh
Yaariyan, the youth wing of Mumbai’s Humsafar Trust, a Non Governmental Organization (NGO) that works for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, will be watching Aligarh together on Sunday, February 28 at 5:30 pm at Movietime Suburbia in Bandra. Darshil Sh from the group said, “We have created a Facebook event and asked people to book their tickets via an online site. Sunday is the day most people from the community have a holiday and can make it for the show. We will be meeting 30 minutes before the show and then have dinner and having drinks post the film at Janta, a restaurant at Pali Hill nearby.”

Jassi Singh who is one of the 20 people who have signed up for the event so far said, “The film has generated huge hype, based on a real life story of a gay professor. It is very rare that such movies are made. I am joining the community to show that we have numbers and to watch a film that depicts reality for us.”

Chandramohan says he hopes the film will open minds and is not stereotypical. He says, “There are National award winners are acting in the movie, so I have a lot of hope. It is a story of a tragic life, we all want to be there for one another to show our support.”

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