#NewsBytesExclusive: Bollywood LGBTQ+ movies often miss mark, says 'Admitted' helmer
Admitted became the Best Documentary Film at this year's Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF). Directed by Chandigarh-based filmmaker Ojaswwee Sharma, the project focused on "the inspiring life of Dhananjay Chauhan, the first transgender student of Panjab University, Chandigarh." Despite independent movies spreading awareness about LGBTQ+ issues, Sharma feels their representation in mainstream Bollywood has a long way to go. Excerpts from his interview.
"Researchers and writers from the LGBTQ+ community haven't really come up [in mainstream cinema], so it's like outsiders' writing their perspective," said Sharma. Noting India doesn't have exact laws on gay marriage, the filmmaker said, "Even if you show the love between gay or transgender characters, the truth is you can't show them getting married or adopting kids because society (audience) won't accept it."
"Society doesn't care if you're happy. You'll only get respect if your relationship is institutionally bound," noted Sharma. He brought the example of Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, saying a transgender love story will become acceptable only after we have talked about their education rights. "How can a gay love story not talk about the lack of security/permanency," he said referring to Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.
Separately, Sharma gushed about Admitted's win. "The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting Films Division finally recognized a film on transgender education rights." He said, Admitted isn't just about a transgender person seeking admission into a university but also about their admission or acceptance into society. After this achievement, Sharma is "sure" of Admitted emerging victorious at the upcoming National Film Awards also.
How did Admitted happen? In 2017, Sharma came across an article about Chauhan appealing for a housing facility while studying at the Chandigarh varsity. As hostels were divided into male and female, she didn't have any provisions. This plea seemed "very genuine" to Sharma who contacted her to make a film about her. Although initially hesitant, Chauhan consented to it on one condition.
"Bhaiya, I just have one request. Whoever plays my role should be transgender. I don't want a man or woman dressing up as one." This thoroughly moved Sharma who, within a day, decided to make a documentary instead of a fiction narrative with Chauhan in the lead. "I didn't see any transgender actor worthy enough to step into her shoes," Sharma recalled.
After a nine-month-long production period at the Panjab University, Admitted started turning heads at multiple film festivals in India and abroad in 2018. Sharma and the makers contacted various OTT platforms for the film but didn't hear back from them. Ultimately, it was released in 2020 on YouTube. Sharma feels it was for the better as it remains free to watch.