Fighting Stereotype Through Cinema

He believes that it is wrong to perceive films as merely a source of entertainment, and that every film has a message - regressive and progressive.

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Among the very few openly gay voices in Bollywood is Onir’s — the Indian film and TV director, editor, screenwriter and producer. For him, the art of filmmaking lies in the stories, which he has grown up with and not the box-office. He believes that it is wrong to perceive films as merely a source of entertainment, and that every film has a message — regressive and progressive.

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“It’s due to my upbringing that I try to show a certain social way of life in my films and I can’t even change that or do something regressive because it might just bring in more moolah or audience,” Onir says, who is best known for his film, My Brother…Nikhil, one of the first mainstream Hindi films to deal with the subject of AIDS and samesex relationships.

Onir himself has never encountered problem of acceptance when it comes to his friends or his immediate family. He says, “I think like an artist, not like a businessman. I have my own identity and that has always mattered.” Because of the love and acceptance he has received till date, he has always had a nonchalant attitude. “I feel it’s so important to respect your identity,” says the 49-year old filmmaker who was born in Bhutan and brought up in Kolkata. Onir won the National Award for his film I Am, which bagged 13 film awards in total.

He thinks Bollywood does not recognize socially-sensitive films as Hollywood does. “When it comes to empowering me, I don’t exist for them. Also, the big challenge today is that I stand for independent cinema. I have an identity that makes people presume that all my work will be in the LGBTQ space. They often say we don’t want to go in the LGTBQ space and violence. So violence is always equated,” Onir explains.

In his experience, he found many mainstream actors to be uncomfortable playing LGBTQ characters on-screen. “It’s not obvious but I know it is there. Sometimes I wonder how come every script is getting refused, and I have seen worse. It’s not right in your face. People say please don’t make things that are too artsy. We are becoming one of those cultures that run away from the word art,” says the filmmaker. Onir thinks a positive change is awaited with the Section 377 verdict. “You cannot misbehave or hurt someone at workplace now because the workplace won’t allow it. Dialogue is important. Just the way there is a lot of talk on women’s empowerment, sexual harassment. I’m glad the journey has begun,” says Onir.

On the personal front, he feels a bit more empowered in terms of relationships. He also feels that more people will come out now and more people will be willing to accept themselves. “I think if I go on Tinder now, I will see more faces.”

This article was first published in the October 2018 issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here