Sridhar Rangayan: Opening The Closet

Sridhar Rangayan turns 57 today. He has tirelessly strived to lend a voice to social issues in India through his artistic endeavors in films, writings and public speaking. Srridhar is one of the Co-Founders of The Humsafar Trust, a community-based organization in Mumbai working since 1994 in the area of health and human rights of sexual minorities. He also designed and edited Bombay Dost, India's oldest LGBTQ magazine.

Sridhar Rangayan: Opening The Closet Sridhar Rangayan: Opening The Closet Source : AF Magazine

Sridhar Rangayan is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and LGBTQ activist. He is also the founder and Festival Director of Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. He has served on the jury of various international film festivals. His own production company, Solaris Pictures, founded with his partner, writer and art director Saagar Gupta produced Gulabi Aaina, which won multiple awards at international film festivals. He has been at the forefront of India's queer cinema movement.

Sridhar's latest film Evening Shadows features Mona Ambegaonkar, Ananth Mahadevan, Devansh Doshi and Arpit Chaudhary. It had its world premiere at the Mardi Gras Film Festival in Australia in 2018. It was screened at Zinegoak Bilbao LGBT Film Festival in Spain, where Sridhar won the Zinegoak Honour Award which is an acknowledgment of professionals in film and the performing arts "that stand out when it comes to talking and creating visibility for LGBTIQ realities and stories around the world." Sridhar said, "I am proud and humbled to be the first Indian to be receiving this award. It recognizes the challenges in which we all continue to make LGBTQ cinema in India, despite a lack of resources. My films are not only works of art, but also activist tools that inform and also impacts the Indian LGBTQ movement. In the post Section 377 environment, a film like Evening Shadows will take the conversation beyond legal and political framework to begin conversations on love, dignity and social integration."

It received accolades from across the world with the official selection at around 38 international film festivals. At the Chicago South Asian Film Festival in the USA, Evening Shadows won the audience award for Best Feature Film. The film also won a 'Free To Be Me' Award at the Roze Filmdagen, an LGBTQ film festival in Amsterdam. The jury citation for the award reads: "The power of film is that it can tell stories and reach audiences that are otherwise hard to reach. By focusing on the clash of traditions and strict family rituals with the actual human relationships behind them, this movie breaks important boundaries in a country where LGBTQ people still face dire challenges, both legal and cultural. As India's first LGBTQ feature that has an all-age approved rating, it can clear the way for a wider discussion in society on why love should be recognized as beautiful in all diversity, and by telling the story in a relatable and compelling way it can reach out far beyond a limited already-convinced audience."

Veteran actress Shabana Azmi spoke of the film, "After watching 'Evening Shadows' I really feel that it has made me a better human being. I feel that all families, especially in our country, should see this film. I hope that a big studio, or a big producer will embrace this film and present it."

India's Supreme Court overturned the draconian law-Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalized sexual activities "against the order of nature". On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India ruled that application of Section 377 to consensual homosexual sex between adults was unconstitutional, "irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary" and "History Owes An Apology To The LGBT Community". Sridhar said about the decision in an interview on Salzburg Global, "It is a historic decision by the highest court in India. The judgment far exceeded our expectations - the wordings in the judgment 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."

Sridhar Rangayan earlier films include The Pink Mirror (2003), Yours Emotionally (2006) and 68 Pages (2007) have been considered groundbreaking because of their realistic and sympathetic portrayal of the largely closeted Indian gay community. His 2015 film Breaking Free won the National Award for Best Editing from the Government of India. Hemal Shringla writes for The Leaflet, "Breaking Free paints a very brutal picture of life when prejudice takes away the right to love. The pressure of secrecy and fear of ostracism alienates gays from their parents and they are often banished to the insecurity, indignity and sheer danger of ‘twilight zones'". Speaking of Evening Shadows, he said: "It 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. It is not just a coming out film of gay youth, but also a film about the subjugation a woman faces within a patriarchal society.

"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 and that gave us the necessary impetus to push forward with the production of the film. The idea is to say that when you come out of the closet, you push your parent into a closet. Because you give out your secret to them and they do not know what to do with it. Many parents from small towns do not have resources or support structure to understand this. For them it becomes like a sudden bombshell when their children come out," Rangayan added.

Sridhar recalls his inspirations: "In terms of films are Shyam Benegal, Sai Paranjpye, Pedro Almodavar, Gus Van Sant and Rob Epstein. But in terms of life, my biggest inspiration are my parents. My father taught me hard work and selfless love, and mother taught me patience and humility. These are the four qualities I truly believe in and hope to continue to live up to."

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