A gay passage to India

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By Yours Emotionally! joins the lengthening line of movies showing South Asian characters who, socially or sexually, refuse to toe the line, reports Jack Lamport
  • Published 3.11.06

Standing in a poky post-adolescent bedroom in Leicester, a second-generation British-Indian spits his vacation plans excitedly into his mobile phone. “So, this guy, Jeh, who I met in the India chat room… he’s taking me and Paul to an all-night party near Bangalore!”

Without further fanfare, the British-Indian feature Yours Emotionally! (in picture) — which has screened at venues across America and was on November 1 screened at the British Council, Mumbai — opens.

In terms of plot, the film depicts something of a gay ‘passage to India’: British Punjabi Sikh, Ravi and his white friend Paul travel to the motherland to check out the all-night parties — and the boys.

In Shimoga, Ravi falls hopelessly in love with Mani. According to the director, Sridhar Rangayan, the story “reflects Ravi’s love, passion, happiness and fears”.

As an actor in the film — playing the part of Paul — my own passage to India began not in Leicester, but America (where I had been living at the time), and finished, not in Bangalore, but in Gujarat, where most of the shoot took place.

Confined to just 10 days, the shoot was an industrious affair. Each day filming began at 7 am and continued until 10 pm. The highlight was getting to take part in a scene that is, arguably, a first for Indian cinema. Actors Ikhlaq Khan and Ajay Rohilla perform a voluntary marriage ceremony in a tiny whitewashed puja room, which Paul witnesses.

After watching the playback of their performance (which involves garlands, hugs, tears and a marital kiss), I acted Paul’s reaction. My British character was to gaze doe-eyed at the couple; but, as is the way when filming, in reality my expression of wonder was directed at the Siemens logo on the side of the camera — at which I twitched my eyes left, right, left!

East meets west

To look at the film with a wider angle, Yours Emotionally! is the latest in a long series of British-Indian or American-Indian features that show South Asian characters who, socially or sexually, refuse to toe the line.

In 1985, My Beautiful Launderette, focusing on a gay relationship between a Pakistani Brit and a London skinhead, became the first British-Asian movie to reach an international audience.

In 1991, the popular American-Indian film Mississippi Masala, starring Denzel Washington, showed an inter-racial romance that causes ructions among an American South Asian family. More recently, the British-Asian blockbuster Bend it Like Beckham depicted a girl determined to take up the predominantly laddish pastime of perfecting one’s soccer moves.

Like these films, Yours Emotionally! sprung from creative negotiations between resident and non-resident South Asians. Sridhar collaborated with London-based NRI producer Niranjan Kamatkar. As director, Sridhar had final artistic control during the shoot, but he admits (on the film’s website) “Niranjan kept a keen hawk-like eye on the treatment to make sure I didn’t dunk in too much melodrama”.

After the filming I interviewed both separately, asking how much they thought their movie drew from Western and non-Western conventions. While Niranjan saw the film as emerging from “a degree of Western influence”, Sridhar said, “at the core the film is Indian, because four of its characters are rooted in Indian subculture”.

But if Yours Emotionally! is rooted in Indian subculture, it is at international film festivals that it has blossomed and enjoyed the sunlight. At screenings in New York, Boston, San Francisco and Long Island this summer it played to sell-out audiences, and further screenings in France, Holland and Australia are planned.

By comparison, the film remains off the screen in India. Even so, when it comes to sexual orientation, Yours Emotionally! is not in the business of proclaiming, baldly, “West is best”. I asked Sridhar and Niranjan whether Ravi will be happy after he returns to Leicester.

While Sridhar felt “the trip does not portend long-term happiness”, Niranjan pondered, “yes, mostly… because that’s how I’ve seen people live and grow accustomed to their situations and environments here”.

Jack Lamport, a freelance journalist in Essex, UK, played Paul in Yours Emotionally!. The film was screened at the British Council, Mumbai, on November 1.