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Will Bollywood finally come out of the closet?

Apurva Asrani, the writer of 'Aligarh', says the Supreme Court judgement will help people who are almost out talk about it publicly

A still from ‘Aligarh’ and writer Apurva Asrani (inset).
A still from ‘Aligarh’ and writer Apurva Asrani (inset).

Mumbai: Apurva Asrani, editor and writer of Aligarh, a film about the mysterious death of gay professor Ramchandra Siras, is one of the few openly LGBTQ+ people working in the Hindi film industry. Like countless others across the country, he was up early on Thursday and online, refreshing his Twitter feed for news on the Supreme Court’s judgement on Section 377. When the news emerged that it had been read down, effectively decriminalizing homosexuality, he found himself overwhelmed.

“I was quite together, but when I read the Supreme Court’s apology for the damage that had been done, I broke down," he said over the phone from Goa, where he lives. “There’s a lot of damage mentally that gay people go through all their lives. You grow up seeing that the majority around you has all these rights that a democracy offers you, but I don’t. Even when you find love, it is so messed up, because it is only allowed to survive in a darkened room in the dead of the night."

Asrani says there are many in the film fraternity who are “almost out", who will talk in private about their sexuality, but have never spoken about it publically. He hopes this judgement will embolden them to come out. In the past, he said, it would mostly just be him and film-maker Onir speaking out, which left him feeling vulnerable at times. “You do feel exposed," he said. “You question, did I go too far?"

It might be a while before industry professionals feel encouraged enough to be open about their sexuality, but Asrani feels Hindi cinema itself has started opening up. He cites 2016 as a breakthrough year. Apart from Aligarh, there were other films with LGBTQ+ themes and characters, like Kapoor and Sons, Dear Dad and Loev (made the year before, but premiered in the 2016 India festival). “I think that’s a sign of the industry coming out," he said. “Individuals also need to come out, and I think they will."

Asked whether he felt vindicated for his openness about his sexuality and his role in mainstreaming gay rights with Aligarh, Asrani said he considered himself “a minuscule part of the whole movement". “What I will agree to is that I lived my life openly, I did not hide my 11-year-old relationship. My partner and I were both lucky enough to bring our parents along, to get them to understand our relationship. We would share those moments on social media. The idea was to say: ‘It is bright in this part of the world, it is sunny, and this is a possibility."

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