The documentary film-maker’s latest web project, #Coming Out, is about battling society’s prejudices about gender roles and sexuality.
Ashish Sawhny is an experienced documentary film maker and ad man who has been working in the area of sexuality, transgender identity and queer lifestyle for over a decade now. “I made my first independent LGBTQI-themed film, Happy Hookers, exactly a decade ago, and have been at it since. I’ve collaborated with most shades of the rainbow over the years, and in the process sensitised myself. Also, working on some international ethnographic films taught me that creating a bond with your subjects makes for a good film,” he says. #Coming Out is a six-part short documentary series by 101india.com which discusses homosexuality, gender identity and sexual health, and will not be an easy series to watch, for most people.
The show tracks the lives of various individuals as they narrate how they came out to their families and friends, and the reactions they received. From a gay HIV positive activist to a trans-woman in the process of getting a sex reassignment surgery, the series has conversations that, till now, have always been hush-hush. Parents talk about society and taboo, and how they were initially shocked but later, somehow, managed to understand their children. And even if they didn’t understand them completely, they at least became solid sources of support and positivity. These are empowering messages that deserve more visibility and traction. “This was initially an idea for a feature documentary that I had been working on for a year,” says Ashish. “It was fate that Cyrus Oshidar, a friend and creative head at www.101india.com, liked the idea and pushed me to make them as individual stories. From my own experience, coming out to oneself and to the world at large is usually the toughest part of being of an alternate sexuality. I wanted to present varied coming out experiences and stories to inspire the younger folk in the LGBTQI community, and hopefully to show them that it only gets better from then on.”
And the stories are definitely inspiring. One of the subjects of the series astutely points out that people have a problem with the act of sex, more than a relationship. Other episodes throw up other interesting insights – how fathers find it harder to come to terms with their sons being gay or wanting to become a woman, how awareness has nothing to do with education and other confusions that society has with alternate sexual identity. “#Coming Out is extremely close to my heart, to use a cliché. Strangely, considering my liberal family ethos, I still grew up quite apprehensive that I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted to – make films – if I came out. That sounds really daft today. I’ve lived through friends, colleagues and younger kids going through their own journeys of coming out, and it always struck me as a crucial moment that is just the beginning of the song,” says Ashish.
Indian pop culture is opening up to homosexual identities and narratives, albeit at a sluggish pace. “It is getting better, though it’s still pretty pathetic.” And which are his favourite films that have dealt with the subject? “There are so many, across genres and countries,” Ashish says, “but recently, it was good to see Aligarh and Kapoor & Sons be a part of our mainstream.” Ashish has made quite a few films on the draconian Section 377, and in some of the episodes of #Coming Out, the subjects comment on how it must be done away with. If Ashish had to make an “I have a dream” speech, what would it be? “Section 377 must be banished forever. There must be an acceptance of diversity and shinier fairy wings for all,” he signs off.