This is the draft of an article I wrote for the March 2005 issue of Trikone on Sridhar Rangayan (Most people can't seem to get the last name right!). It was written in January that year and Sridhar went on to direct another gay film 'Yours Emotionally' (after 'Gulabi Aaina'). A trailer of this new film will be shown at the upcoming GayBombay film festival. I hope to post a review (of sorts!) of YE this weekend. Until then, here's my article on Sridhar:
It is up to each one of us to make what we will of the opportunities that come our way, how we play the game. Sridhar Rangayan has given as freely of himself to friends and the LGBT communities, as he has received from them. His house has been the ‘family home’ that has witnessed festive ‘addas’ and ferocious activist meets, and many a romance bloom, and sadly, wilt. Sridhar, after all, is all about relationships—whether it’s the one he has shared with life- and business partner Saagar; the kind of work he has produced as a professional in the TV industry or the circle of friendship or alternative family to which he belongs and the two institutions created by it, ‘Bombay Dost’ and The Humsafar Trust.
He has therefore chosen the perfect subject for the next (‘Night of Flambé’) in his ‘Rainbow Stories’ series of seven queer themed films—“gay relationships”. At least some of the material will be drawn from his own relationship, which crossed the ten-year milestone. “Ten years of togetherness—for us it’s a HUGE milestone! Most gay relationships tend to fizzle out in 7.5 years. In the fifth or sixth year, one wonders whether it’s going to last until one is 60-65, whether there will be distractions, incompatibility…. Now we feel that we can’t do without each other—and we can’t even get anybody else,” he rounds off with a joke, in typical Sridhar style.
This ability to laugh at—and live with—oneself is probably what found expression in ‘Gulabi Aaina’ (‘The Pink Mirror’) or India’s first gay film on drag queens. For Sridhar, the film represented the coming together of his activist and artistic sides “to make a product that,” he says “belongs to me, my partner and my community. We made it on an impulse but the film has gathered its own momentum, becoming a movement much beyond our expectations.” A simple desire to capture the ‘adaas’ of Edwin (one of the film’s lead) translated on screen has ended up becoming a “cult film” (a label given by the media) representative of Indian drag queens in 18 countries at 45 film festivals, and brought Sridhar laurels, awards and international media exposure. Even today, two years later, festivals invite the film, people ask for copies, and the media write about it, in India and outside. “There is still activity around the film; it’s exciting!”
Back home though Sridhar has been dealing with censorship (the film has been termed “full of obscenity”), a lukewarm response from Indian LGBT groups and some censure as well from the straight-acting, English-speaking gay genus. Unwilling to recant on his artistic ‘point de vue’ for anyone, Sridhar has resisted off-the-record offers of a (Universal!) censorship certificate by palms itching to be greased, choosing instead to go in appeal against the Censor Board. And self-hating fags be damned; what counts is the “phenomenal response” to the film by those whom it gave a voice for the first time, i.e., the cross-dressing ‘koti’. “What the community as a whole makes of the film, how they use it is up to them. I was hoping that the ‘hijra’ communities will also screen it… that the film will be seen by many more people,” Sridhar says, partly disappointed with the lack of appreciation by his own.
What he also finds “rather disturbing” is that within the gay community, there is much skepticism about gay relationships. That and the fact that “they are seen as an aberration. People say ‘Why do they want make ‘chapattis’ together?’ There is the dominant-subservient, active-passive stamp that comes from the hetero pattern—even the community sees same-sex relationships within these parameters. Or suppose one of the partners does sleep outside the relationship, there is so much heat generated about it—the community seems more concerned about it than the two people involved.”
Sridhar and Saagar have found acceptance (often wholehearted but sometimes stingy) from friends and their showbiz fraternity. Both, wickedly and gratefully, Sridhar enjoys the reactions in mostly-hetero spaces to their being lovers. Them being labeled gay artists in an essentially intellectually impoverished industry is a risk Sridhar is conscious about, but the greater danger he says is the narrowing of his own vision to gay-only subjects. “I would love to continue doing other things. I would enjoy making a ‘Dr. Zhivago’—to make an Indian version of it is THE dream—as much as I enjoyed making ‘Gulabi Aaina’ We continue to do a lot of mainstream TV, including a hetero romance set on a cruise liner!” Many dream boats sail by but Sri and Saagar maintain the professional’s position on the sets. Gay jokes are common behind the scenes—the good ones being appreciated and the phobic ones politely berated.
Then of course, there is the question of family acceptance—Saagar’s family is not quite aware of their ‘domestic enterprise’. (They stay away from their folks—Sridhar’s in small-town Mandya near Bangalore; Saagar’s in Meerut.) “That’s one hurdle we are yet to cross—I am out to my family; he’s not. For Saagar’s family, we are still ‘bhai-bhai’ staying together,” Sridhar says. What is interesting is that Saagar has gone from being ‘woh ladka’ for Sridhar’s mother to someone with whom she can have long conversations.”
Mirroring Sridhar’s optimistic outlook, ‘Night of Flambe’, a 70-minute feature shot in digital format, will be “not so much about the problems of a relationship but its beauty despite the problems.” While scripting progresses on the film, Sridhar is looking at ways to cement his relationship with Saagar further: “Buying a house together would perhaps be one way of doing that. I don’t know how easy it would be for us to get a housing loan and buy a house jointly. I cannot even nominate Saagar in my insurance policy—he needs to be a blood relative. That we are business partners is the only ‘legal recognition’ we can hang on to—most couples don’t even have that. There is security in the relationship but these things give some social sanction, make us more secure.”
Security is cherished in the graying, balding years and peril prized in youth. Eleven years ago, Sridhar, a qualified engineer gave up a lucrative job for apprenticeship with Sai Paranjpye. Solaris Pictures’, the company formed by Sri and Saagar since they went indy, has produced much ‘mainstream work’; this helped finance ‘Gulabi Aaina’ and will also roll in the money for the next Rainbow story. Sridhar is determined to place a bet again with his own money while the first film is only now getting close to the breakeven line.
Sridhar would rather not speculate on what he would, if asked to pick, choose to be—artist or activist. “Hopefully, a filmmaker who can straddle both—a good acrobat.”