Giving voice to queer stories

Jul 17, 2013, 09:41 IST | Soma Das

Godrej India Culture Lab is hosting Queer Voices of Mumbai, which includes the screening of an ongoing documentary, Music In Liminal Spaces, followed by a presentation by Jeff Roy, whose work delves on the LGBT and Hijra communities

In 2012, documentary filmmaker Jeff Roy was selected (among four others) for the prestigious Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship. The programme awards individuals with projects that explore the use of music as a base for mutual understanding between cultures. Roy proposed to develop a documentary, titled Music In Liminal Spaces, about how music and dance within Mumbai’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) communities helped to empower and strengthen their individual and collective voices.

Jeff Roy during the making of the documentary 

“The project was given its stamp of approval by music idols including Foster the People, B.o.B, J Cole and Diplo, as well as the J William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board,” reveals the 28-year-old Roy.

This week, Roy will visit the Godrej India Culture Lab at Vikhroli as part of the event, Queer Voices of Mumbai, which will be the first public presentation of his documentary-in-progress, following a year-long production stint. The session will showcase select portions from the documentary as well as feature a talk by Roy.

Notes on empowerment
The feature-length documentary will demonstrate how music, dance, and traditional art forms in a new performance context, are playing an important role in the individual and social emancipation of the LGBTQ and Hijra communities. “Since the nullification of Section 377 (the 200 year-old bill that effectively criminalised homosexual practices) in 2009, India has seen a rising level of media exposure towards issues of gender and sexuality. My project is the development of original material in a character-driven documentary. It demonstrates how growing public attention, reinforced by political activism through the HIV/AIDS NGO sectors and in budding private sectors, have given way for such communities to turn traditionally exploited art forms into new, important spaces of survival and liberation for marginalised queer communities,” shares Roy.

Music In Liminal Spaces narrates stories of the LGBTQ and Hijra communities

Roy’s documentary treads uncharted terrain as it incorporates simultaneous production, post-production, and outreach. “That’s essentially fancy for: you get to see what is happening, when it happens. While most of my work is complete, the videos that document my process are still available for public viewing,” states Roy, explaining that the Fellowship programmes maintained a monthly blog of his work, which contains a video along with a written synopsis of his experiences filming performances. These videos, along with additional footage will be combined to create a feature-length documentary film that is likely to be released in late 2013.

Storytelling matters
With an aim to present stories “as they were told, in an objective, authentic, and artful light”, Roy’s documentary includes footage of LGBTQ rights activist Prince Manavendra Singh Gohil, who is also a Classical harmonium player, and of Dancing Queens, a not-for-profit dance company comprised of Hijras, transmen, kothis (local gay male identities), and gay men.

Scenes from the making of the documentary

On July 19, 5 pm
At Godrej India Culture Lab, Auditorium (above canteen), Gate 2, Godrej Industries, Vikhroli (E). Entry from Eastern Express Highway.
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Who is Jeff Roy?
Roy is a professional violinist in Western and Indian Classical music, who studied with an Indian Classical musician from a Kolkata-based gharana for over seven years. During the last two years, he realised his passion for documentary filmmaking, while pursuing an MA in Ethnomusicology at UCLA.

In 2010, he conducted fieldwork in Mumbai where he studied the Folk music and dance of the Hijra community. Later that year, he began production of a feature-length documentary about a transsexual who underwent male-to-female sexual reassignment surgery. The film, titled Rites Of Passage, was successful and has been screened as competitions at over 50 international film festivals and won several awards. The film’s success spurred him to make Music In Liminal Spaces. 

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