Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Remembering Nishit Saran

Nishit Saran died this day five years ago at the age of 26. He was a trailblazing filmmaker and is an inspiration to queer communities everywhere.
Born and raised in India, he moved to the US in 1994 for studies. Graduating with the highest honours in film from Harvard University in 1998, Saran was then awarded a prestigious teaching fellowship and a grant to make his first film. In 1998-99, Saran taught a year-long course in advanced filmmaking at Harvard, and also finished the making of ‘Summer in My Veins’, at the age of 23.
A personal documentary made with just a hand-held camera, it won high praise for its frank portrayal of Saran’s own struggle to reconcile his family ties and his homosexuality. The film has been screened at many international film festivals including Boston, Los Angeles, Toronto, San Francisco, Hawaii, New Zealand, and at both, public and private screenings in India. It was shown at what may well have been India’s first gay and lesbian festival, ‘Glitter & Gumboots’, organized by Delhi’s Lady Shri Ram College.
In May 1999, Saran returned to India to work on his next film. His first feature was ‘A Perfect Day’, an experimental film, 80 minutes in length, with a largely improvised script and minimal lighting that ignored many of the values of Bollywood; it was also India’s first digital feature film. It was shown at the ITC Digital Talkies International Film Festival in March 2001, besides other festivals. Saran also made ‘Project Flower’ on street children in Nizamuddin, New Delhi, which premiered at the World AIDS Conference in Durban.
Saran was outspoken in his support for gay rights in India and contributed articles, reviews, and essays to numerous national publications and webzines, including the strident editorial, ‘My sexuality is your business’ in ‘The Indian Express’ of 8 February 2000, which attacked Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Incidentally, he had been an editorial intern at his college magazine. (The Nishit Saran Foundation, run by the wonderful and brave Minna Saran and other family and friends, hosts some of his writings and photographs.)
Saran was researching Lord Shiva and the practice of Tantra for his next film project, when he passed away in a terrible car accident.