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A journey from invisibility to empowerment

‘Breaking Free’, a documentary on the LGBT community, is part of the Indian Panorama at the 46th International Film Festival of India. The director of ‘Breaking Free’, Sridhar Rangayan in an email interview with NT BUZZ spoke about Section 377, issues related with the community and the need to hear the voices of 4 crore people that constitute this community in India
Arti Das | NT BUZZ

Q: What inspired you to make a documentary on the LGBT community of India?
Though I have been working with LGBT rights for over 20 years and speaking openly as a gay man, it was seven years ago that a horrible incident shook my very core. There was a drive by the Bangalore police to evict all hijras and transgenders from Bangalore city as they along with the government felt that they were an evil influence on society. Within two to three days hundreds of hijras and transgenders were arrested, locked-up, thrown out of their houses. Even activists, who staged protests, were beaten up, molested and arrested. This caused quite an uproar and a press conference was a held in Mumbai at the Press Club to protest against this victimisation, as well as other incidents that involved gay and lesbian individuals. I went there to document the event and was extremely moved by the speeches. One thing that became apparent from the passionate speeches made by activists and Anand Grover (senior counsel who was fighting the Section 377 case), was that the root cause of victimisation of LGBT community was the colonial law Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which was quite often misused. I felt the need to learn more about Section 377 and that was where the journey of ‘Breaking Free’ began. I felt the compulsion within me to discover, uncover and highlight the issues around Section 377.

Q: In a country like India being part of this community is still a crime. Shed some light on the plight of the LGBT community?
After years of being ‘invisibilised’ due to the draconian Section 377, the Delhi High Court’s verdict in 2009, decriminalising homosexuality was a big step and a reason for rejoicing for the LGBT community. People from the LGBT community got the courage to ‘come out’, tell their families, colleagues, and friends about themselves. They also got the confidence to participate in LGBT cultural events such as film festivals, etc. But everything changed with the Supreme Court’s reversal of the verdict in 2013, which ‘recriminalised’ same-sex relationships. It was indeed a huge blow to the LGBT community. But what is interesting is that there is a great amount of resilience now. Those who have come out do not want to step back into the closet. They want to be more vocal in their demand for justice. The film ‘Breaking Free’ traces this journey from invisibility to empowerment.

Q: What sort of research did you conduct to make this documentary?
As a gay activist, and working with the LGBT community for the last 20 years I have been an intrinsic part of the numerous hurdles that the community has faced as well as several LGBT initiatives and events. But I had to consult lawyers like Anand Grover, Arvind Narrain and BT Venkatesh to understand the legal implications and human rights violations in detail. Saagar Gupta, the co-producer of the film, has also been instrumental in carrying out extensive research in finding archival press clips, news footage and images that relate to the LGBT movement over the last 25 years. This has added a lot of value to the film.

Q: Were you sceptical of the film’s release without cuts by the Censor Board?
I was indeed quite sceptical about the Censor Board’s reaction to the film because the film doesn’t white-wash the problems faced by the community, but lays it out honestly. Some of the stories in the film are very hard hitting. The fact that the censor board gave it a certificate without any cuts shows a level of maturity among the preview members. They did see that the film does not sensationalise the issue or is not being jingoistic. It presents stories, facts and events in a rational balanced manner.

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