The gay community is falsely represented – Amit Khanna
There’s much that has been said about Section 377. Yet, there are several misconceptions and incorrect notions associated with the LGBT community. Director Amit Khanna attempts to break these stereotypes and educate people regarding the gay community through his upcoming web series called ‘All About Section 377’. In a freewheeling chat with Pandolin, the writer – director who will also feature in the series talks about the inspiration behind the concept, the challenges faced in putting it together and his views on Section 377.
Tell us about the concept of All About Section 377.
All about section 377 is the journey of a homophobic man who comes from Delhi to Bombay to pursue acting and modeling. He’s completely homophobic and when he comes here, he has to share the apartment with his cousin brother who’s a known photographer. The homophobic guy learns that his cousin is gay and lives with his boyfriend in the same house. So it’s a journey of his ups and downs, what he thinks about gays and lesbians and how his perception about them changes.
How did you conceive this idea?
The idea to make something around the lines of section 377 was in my mind since 2011. I was actually writing a full-fledged script for a Hindi feature film and was also given a go ahead by a production company. But on December 9, 2012, the Supreme Court criminalized homosexuality and it became a criminal offense, so the producers backed out from the film, saying that it might not be released and could face problems. Suddenly, since the past year or so web series started trending in our country and it didn’t have any kind of censorship involved. So I thought that this would be a great platform for the idea. Not that I wanted to show anything vulgar or cheap, but it was important that the thought reaches out to many people.
What I also feel is that the LGBT community has been portrayed in an incorrect way in our society through the medium of art. Gay people are always made fun of, people are laughing at them, they’re shown overtly desperate and so on. And that’s how the society perceives them to be and that needs to change. You need to understand that they are human beings at the end of the day; only their preferences are different. They also have an emotional side to them and they too go through a lot of ups and downs. It takes a lot of courage for them to come out and accept themselves. There are so many who are in the closet, maybe because they’re scared to come out and because they think that people will laugh at them. So it was very important to educate people because the gay community is falsely represented. There have been filmmakers who are gay and lesbians, but they themselves have portrayed things in a caricaturish way. I don’t really like that and I feel it’s wrongly done so we wanted to take care of that.
Was there one specific driving force or inspiration behind this web series?
I think the inspiration has been there since a very long time. There have been people who I meet on a daily basis. It’s just the idea that we’re living in such a world today, in a country where you don’t have the freedom to love. When you look at love it’s a very positive word and a very nice word. But the debates that I’ve been seeing on various news channels have made this sound very vulgar and cheap. That is something I do not like. Love is a positive word and that inspired me to come up with something positive. And to come up with something where I say that, “At the end of the day when you are in deep shit the society is not going to come to rescue you. The people who are around you should, and they must be the ones who matter.” Love and it’s purity is what inspired me to make section 377.
After making films, what prompted you to venture into the online space?
As a filmmaker, though I have had good a experience with my producers, I think too many heads start getting involved in the creative space, for instance – add an item number, add this and that, which is not true to the subject. It filters out everything and you try to make it commercial, not remaining honest to the script, which I feel is wrong. There are great producers who do not interfere as well but for me personally I’m not from a filmy background with a family backing me up in terms of films, so I need to create my own stream. I can’t depend on somebody else and this was a platform that I felt was ideal to do that. Otherwise I had to depend on 1000 other people. I was very lucky that Cherisha, Pawan and Neeru ji who are the producers have given me complete creative freedom to go ahead and make this. So I could say whatever I wanted to.
What do you think are the factors that make the audience click with a web series?
Internet has grown and how! Nowadays everyone doesn’t have time or the money to go and spend in a multiplex. Also, the pace of living has speeded up from what it used to be. So people have access to content even on their phone and a lot of youngsters, even as young as 14-year-olds have their own mobile phones with 3G. So the content is easily available and I think that’s the reason why it’s trending so much.
Also the fact that it’s a free medium to express yourself with no censorship. Also since it’s so quick, posts go viral very soon and your reach becomes faster.
You have also acted in the series. Any specific reason behind that?
We had conducted auditions for Rohit’s part in the web series. There were good people who had come and many of them were frightened to play such a character because it’s a gay and extremely strong. As a writer, I felt that maybe I need someone to do complete justice because it was very important that it does not come across as cheap and vulgar. Apart from that it was very important that the character came across as strong, as somebody who’s not ashamed of being gay and at the same time who’s a strong individual who has succeeded in his life and is not scared of society. Though I’ve never acted before, being behind the cameras has given me a little understanding about it (acting).
I was very scared because there were some emotional sequences where I had to cry and I not sure that I would be able to do it. But I got a lot of confidence from the people around me – Gulshan was constantly encouraging me and would be present when I would be doing the scene because someone had to be behind the camera. My associate director Vrushank and everyone kept guiding me on how to do it. It was a good experience. Everything happens for the first time and I had a certain sense of belief that I won’t let it go wrong because I knew I had to handle it.
At what stage is All About Section 377 currently?
All About Section 377 is complete and all the eight episodes are ready. We are at a stage of releasing rather soon, probably in the month of March Itself. There have been many takers after seeing the promo and we’ve got a great response. A lot of big production houses that are going to launch their digital platform have gotten in touch with us. The only reason why we have not been able to give it to them is because they have not given us a release date and we want to release it soon. The first season has eight episodes. We had a screening at the Humsafar trust also, where we got amazing reviews. In fact a lot of creative people from the media industry have seen the whole thing and given us very good feedback. We’re also going to be coming up with a second season.
What were the challenges faced while making this web series?
There were definitely a lot of challenges, which was very upsetting. No sponsors agreed to sponsor this series and no brands wanted to come on board in spite of some of them being gay themselves, as they felt that it would be scary to be a part of this.
Casting was a big issue. Many actors shied away from playing the gay, bisexual and lesbian characters. So apart from Gulshan who’s a trained actor, everybody else is making their debut. And even my assistant Surbhi has made a debut as an actor. We cast ourselves because nobody else was agreeing to be a part of it.
Also there was a certain sense of fear of acceptance because we are coming out very strongly and saying very strong things. So we thought that there would be a lot of opposition from families and friends. But luckily that was taken care of. Everyone’s families have been supportive. We’ve never had a gay web series in the country or a gay film on these lines. We’ve always had the LGBT community in dark shadows and silhouettes, depressing scenarios and very sexual in nature. But this is something very bright, colorful and fun loving. We’ve shown very normal things happening, which I think even straight people would relate to.
Also for me directing and acting together was the biggest challenge. I’m not a very calm director because I obviously scream and shout on the sets, so initially my assistants used to be scared to tell me to make a change in the way I’m acting. So every night I would have to sit and see the footage to be able to understand what I was doing right or wrong. That becomes a bit challenging.
Also obviously you have a budget constraint because you’re making a web series; you’re not making a grand film but it has to look good.
You debuted as a writer with the show Roomies. What has changed since then?
It’s been a massive change in terms of writing. At that time, I did not know how my writing would translate on screen. Now I know where to cut it. I used to have a habit of writing long things and not cutting them. Also making the scripts a little more edgy is what I have learnt.