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Inclusive Storytelling; A Candid Conversation with Rahul Roye - Niranjana N, Sairam, Pratibha

Pride is a celebration of all things unique. A celebration of individuality, self-discovery and the achievements of all who dare to embrace their differences. Riding the wave of success from his recent two films, ‘Man and Wife’ (2022) and ‘A Lullaby for Yellow Roses’ (2023), filmmaker and queer activist, Rahul Roye kindly agreed to do an interview with THEPC and VFS to share his experiences and insights. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

THEPC: In your movie, Man and Wife you have tried to bring light to the queer experience in India. What are some aspects of the experience that are overlooked that you want more people to be aware of?

RAHUL: I, for one, have always seen the agencies of gender binary as more of a political tool put in place in order to preserve gender hierarchy rather than a biological factor. Although visibility is very crucial to garner acceptance, I would love to imagine a world where you wouldn’t need to be visible to gain acceptance. Rather than othering queer people as a different community, inclusion, normalization and acknowledging their achievements goes a long way.

VFS: Do you have any set goals for the future with regards to filmmaking that you want to complete?

RAHUL: I like to make films that talk about gender politics and the futility of gender binary. Which is a construct that has been injected so deep in us that we’ve started believing it to be the only option. I always feel strongly against any criterion that segregates people and refuses to see them as individuals.

THEPC: Man and Wife has been getting loads of positive recognition from various accredited film festivals around the world including the Out On Film Atlanta LGBTQ Film Festival. What has the experience been like?

RAHUL: It has been very overwhelming to have been selected for and awarded all the accolades, to be honest. The film was a labor of love and it is wonderful to know that it has resonated with a lot of people.

VFS: How did you get started on writing Man and Wife and what was the process like?

RAHUL: Being genderqueer myself, I could never fit myself into the pre-existent algorithms set by the colonial and white supremacist concept of the gender binary. The protagonist of “Man And Wife” Sohan, actually is based on a very good friend of mine. In an arranged marriage, on the wedding day and just before the ceremony, the groom comes out to the bride-to-be that they are secretly a non-binary person. He wears a “Banarasi saree” which happens to be a traditional Bengali bridal wear. As the film unfolds, we understand that Sohan is emotionally and physically comfortable with Nandini and that his gender identity or role has nothing to do with his sexuality. So with this film, I wanted to advocate for the fluidity of gender and by taking two extremes, I wanted to make a comment on gender bias and stereotypes.

THEPC: How much of a difference do you think the surge of the parallel cinema and short film narrative in India has brought in the minds of the Indian audience?

RAHUL: The surge in parallel cinema and short films has changed the Indian spectatorship in an unprecedented manner. OTT platforms have also heavily contributed to making niche stories accessible to all. The Indian audience is able to perceive cinema as something beyond a star casting. The audience is able to be involved in the plot of a film; understand and intellectually participate in the intricate complexities of the narrative. So I would say, it has definitely affected the industry positively. While I personally have nothing against stardom, it is heartening to know that a good script can become the star, for a change.

THEPC: How, according to you, has mainstream cinema grown in the last decade, especially concerning, for India, transgressive topics like queer acceptance and feminism?

RAHUL: To answer this question, I would like to share a personal anecdote. The film I’m working on currently focuses on the lives of a transman and a transwoman; and the biggest issue I am facing is casting. There are no dedicated casting agents or institutions for queer actors. I have interviewed numerous trans people for inspiration for my characters, and while they have been incredibly helpful during scripting, they wouldn’t agree to play the characters on screen. While I respect their reservations, it just goes on to show how much we are in need for casting agencies to be more inclusive.

THEPC: Can you recommend some media that, in your opinion, has the most authentic queer representation?

RAHUL: I find that most streaming platforms have a collection of queer films; Netflix, Hulu, Mubi and Apple TV to name a few. There is also GagaOOLala, Asia’s first streaming platform that specializes in queer-centric films. Omeleto on Youtube is a wonderful space to watch good short films. Apart from that, I would also recommend Short Of The Week and Vimeo Pro.

VFS: Most of the limited queer content we have, are either oversexualised or they end in tragedies. Why do they think that is? What can be done to combat that?

RAHUL: Yes, I recognise that most of the queer films end up in tragedy or bare representations that may not be authentic. As cinema is a reflection of real life and queer people actually deal with a lot of hostility in life added to hostility just to be themselves. Yes, but we need to focus on more happy stories with happy endings, for that we need to make reality happier also. We need to understand and embrace the way they are. Not speculate the things we don’t understand. Only way to change this is to make reality a better place to make happier films about queer people.

THEPC: How much grace do you personally give to homophobes and do you believe in educating them or do you feel that it is not the responsibility of queer people to educate ignorant folks who’ve had ample time to develop empathy?

RAHUL: I believe, homophobia does not require a lot of attention, until it directly or indirectly hurts me personally or the sentiments of others. People with such mindsets might be insecure or have trouble accepting themselves as they are, which leads to them developing an inferiority complex to those who have made peace with their identities and individuality. And all I would wish for them is love and warm hugs.

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