Going Home, Coming Out
I Am follows the journey of Sonali Gulati, an Indian lesbian filmmaker who returns home to Delhi after 11 years to finally confront the loss of her mother whom she never came out.
While in Delhi, Gulati meets and talk to parents of other gay and lesbian Indians and in the process finds the true meaning of family. As she meets and speaks to parents of other gay and lesbian Indians, she pieces together the fabric of what family truly means in a culture where being gay is considered a crime.
The Virginia Commonwealth University professor began the process of making I Am with research in 2004. Now, six years later the film is complete and winning praise on an international level as well as several awards including a Grand Jury Prize at a film festival in Bombay and also at the Indian film Festival in Los Angeles. She screened the film here in Richmond last month at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
The inspiration for making the film is credited to Gulati credits her mother as the inspiration for the film – she passed before Gulati came out. (pictured with her mother during graduation)
“The film is in many ways a gift to my mother,” she says.
So with conflicted emotions, she returned home to Delhi to pack up the house she once called home. With the house being the location of her mother’s death, a series of complex emotions surround the space which enclosed so many of the memories of her mother. She found herself having to sort through her mothers things, including her clothing, which proved the most daunting of all. She saw the task as a right of passage for people who lose a loved one to decide what to do with their things.
She went to different families in India and interviewed members of families with a LGBT person. Her dedication to the subject matter is evident and was an important factor in the final outcome of the film.
“It was really important for me to establish strong relationships with the participants in the film,” Gulati says. “One sees how comfortable they are in front of the camera and that has a lot to do with the amount of time I spent with them.”
The film is meant to be helpful for people struggling with coming out to the people in their lives. With the use of personal stories Gulati is able to portray a true idea of family and acceptance that is truly inspiring. She says “Ideally, I would love for people to take a leap from the very personal stories to the more universal concept of loving and accepting people for who they are, no matter how different we are from each other.
She says “Making this film has been a wonderful experience for me and made me realize the power of self-representation and the need for fusing art and activism.”
According to Gulati, reactions of the people in India to the documentary have been very welcoming and enthusiastic. With packed auditoriums full of eager viewers, it is safe to say that the film has grabbed the attention and praise of many.
With Section 377 (the law that criminalizes homosexuality in India) being struck down, Gulati has noticed a shift in attitudes towards the LGBT community in India.
“I think it has had some impact in making people feel more comfortable and less threatened about coming out in the open, as is evidenced by the growing number of people each year at Pride marches across the country.”
Gulati felt fortunate to be able to be present in New Delhi when talk of organizing the first pride march was going on in 2008. But the battle is not won yet. India still has a ways to go in changing the mindsets of people and gaining acceptance.
“To be part of organizing that event and being present for it and witnessing all these queer people on the streets in a city where I felt so isolated and invisible was perhaps the most invigorating.”
The war is not won yet though. India has a long way to go in changing the mindsets and attitudes held about the gay community.
After observing several family dynamics throughout the film, Gulati has experienced a wide array of families and relationships. The film making process and her own experiences gave her a unique lens to survey the dynamics of families. In a culture where being gay is punishable, a sense of real family is necessary.
“I think it boils down to unconditional love. It might sound trite but really that’s what it comes down to. If families love each other without conditions and strings attached and accept each other for who they are, that’s really the true meaning of family. I also don’t think that families ought to be defined purely on the basis of biology.
“Queer people often have a chosen family and that’s okay too if we’re not related to each other by blood. There is plenty of evidence around us that shows that love exists and can exist between two people without necessarily being related to each other through blood.”
For more information on I Am visit the movie’s website here.
Sydney hails from Virginia Beach and is a rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in Fashion Merchandising and a minor in media studies.
A documentary on Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student from Wyoming who was attacked and murdered in a hate crime in 1998, will premiere tonight on Logo at 9 pm. ”Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine,” follows director Michele Josue, a close friend of Matt’s, as she travels to important locations in Matthew’s [...]July 27, 2015
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