“I was doing a lot of films with LGBT themes, but I felt I didn’t know enough about LGBT issues,” recalls Mumbai-based film director Sridhar Rangayan. “Making Purple Skies was a way to learn more. To uncover the facts that lesbians, transsexuals…they all face violence.”
Sridhar Rangayan is more than a filmmaker. As a staunch activist of the LGBT movement, Sridhar has a wealth of knowledge regarding gay rights, specifically surrounding Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The law, which dates back to 1860 during the British rule of India, states that sexual acts “against the order of nature” are criminal. Many of India’s high courts have accepted the notion that homosexuality is one such act.
Rangayan’s film, Purple Skies, came about as the director decided to document an LGBT march in Bombay in 2008. “I started filming the protests, and then the Pride marches,” Rangayan says. “Then I chose to capture some interviews and telling the story of what was occurring with the younger lesbian and transgender populations.”
Overwhelmed with the number of stories and the effects Section 377 has had on India’s LGBT population, particularly the younger people, Purple Skies became a sub-project of a larger film, Breaking Free, which is now in its final stages for global release. “Breaking Free goes further to show people who were arrested, raped, beaten, abused…all because 377 is a tool used by the police,” states Rangayan. He goes on to explain, “In consideration of 377, homosexuality goes against the patriarchy system. Nuclear family is not the focus in homosexuality. Of course, you can visit old temples or read old texts and you see homosexual desire is expressed, but it is not mainstream and it was not criminalized until the law came to be and presented the concepts of shame, sin, and what is legal.”
Purple Skies introduces audiences to a collection of lesbian and transgendered individuals who tell their stories and explain the personal challenges each faced as they came out. More importantly, the film goes on to deliver a message of hope, sharing the support systems that exist in modern-day India, specifically designed to assist lesbian and transgendered people in light of the recent court rulings regarding Section 377.
Rangayan delivers an honest and unfiltered view of the often-overlooked LGBT culture in India, with a careful eye on the plight of lesbians and transgendered Indians. “Lesbians, per se, have not often been the victims of Section 377,” explains Rangayan. “The police use different laws to criminalize, and many lesbians are charged then with women trafficking because one woman will come to live with another and this is not generally accepted. So, as a result, we see more lesbian suicide. It’s tragic, but we’ve even seen notes where they state, ‘Society doesn’t accept us. The Law doesn’t accept us. Since we cannot live together, we die together.’ This makes it a feminist issue as much as an LGBT issue.”
Through his films and activism, Sridhar Rangayan is continually working to influence change in India’s parliament. He explains, “The Congress has been more sympathetic, but Parliament still feels they have more pressing issues currently. The Courts have many cases, so I fear the message is falling on deaf ears for now.”
“But, we’re still holding marches.”