Gulabi Aaina
Mumbai Drag Queens are ready for their Close-Up

by Georgina Maddox
Trikone Magazine, SF, USA
September 2003

Gay pride has a new avtar, with Sridhar Rangayan's Gulabi Aaina aka The Pink Mirror.

This film on drag queens in India has become the first desi film to be made in this genre and screened worldwide.

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"Gay pride has a new avtar, with Sridhar Rangayan's Gulabi Aaina aka The Pink Mirror."

~ Georgina Maddox,
Trikone

" I think the best response I got was from the community itself- they were so happy to have a film that they could totally identify with. To hear characters like Shabbo (Edwin Fernandes) and Bibbo (Ramesh Menon) bitch, gossip and take up for each other", says Rangayan about the first screening at the Humsafar Trust after the two month production and shoot of his 40 minute DV film was complete.

The film stars Fernandes and Menon in the main roles, while featuring Rishi Raj who plays Mandy, a cute, endearing and queeny "kothi" boy introduced to the community. The film also has a studly Rufy Baqal playing Samir, the object of everyone's desire and a cameo role by Deepak Sonavane as a well meaning friend.

The story unfolds, mostly in Bibbo's living room in a TV sitcom, soap opera style, with all possible digs at mainstream clichés. While the earnest message at the end comes too sudden, becoming a bit of a cliché in itself, one can't help but succumb to the charm of the hilarious Bibbo and the poignancy of a doe eyed Shabbo. Importantly it's a very positive look at what could otherwise have been a dark theme.

But there have been other reactions after several screenings as well. In Mumbai at a Gay Bombay screening some of the viewers felt a little alienated by the vernacular drag queen lingo. "They felt the cultural divide that the community faces from time to time, needs to be thoroughly explored," says the filmmaker.

In London it was screened for the Naz Project where the film provided a good platform for a further discussion on the history of Asian drag queens in United Kingdom and then in India. At Turin in Italy it got a warm reception. Selected for Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in San Francisco, Gulabi Aaina has run into the censors back home in India.

The trouble started when the film was to be screened at the Digital Talkies film fest. The censor board in Delhi refused to pass it banning further public screenings in India. But Rangayan is steadfast in his position and hopefully things will iron out with the support of filmmakers like Anand Patwardhan, who recently won a case with the censor board for his film War and Peace.

In the meantime Rangayan and his partner Saagar Gupta who formed their own production house Solaris Pictures are excited about their San Francisco screening. "One of the reasons why I chose the sitcom format for this film was because I wanted to reach out to a larger audience and not just make a propagandist film for the community. In India it totally works. People are very comfortable with slapstick comedy. The diaspora also connect hugely with the puns and innuendo, while the uninitiated European, especially the Italians laughed in all the right places which means they got the punch lines!" says Rangayan. Of course the film had subtitles and at Turin it was dubbed in Italian.

Rangayan's background has prepared him well for making his first, self-funded queer film. Having worked with Sai Paranjpye where he sharpened his skill and picked up on her fresh approach to comedy he went on to work with the likes of Dev Benegal and Kalpana Lajmi on films like Daarmiyan, a film on eunuchs.

Rangayan and Gupta had already dreamed up the script for Gulabi Aaina in 1999. They pitched it to Zee TV for their sitcom Rishtey but were politely declined. "They said it was 'too early' to bring a film like this to the mainstream. Then when Ekta Kapoor's Saas-Bahu (mother-in-law and dughter-in-law) soap syndrome bit the industry we decided it was high time we struck out on our own," says Rangayan.

After the initial teething problems Rangayan and Gupta are well on their way to becoming independent filmmakers with an edge. It's been a long journey for Sridhar Rangayan, from his small town Mandya near Bangalore to the film festival in San Francisco, but one worth all the trouble for sure.


Trikone ~ September 2003

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Reviews
at a glance:

TMG, UK

Humanscape, India

The Hindu, India

UK.Gay.Com, UK

Asian News, UK

BBC.com, UK

Mid-Day, India

Bent, Australia

Desi, UK

The Hindu, India

Deccan Herald, India

Trikone, USA

Gay Today.com, USA

BBC Hindi.com

Deccan Herald, India

Asian Age, India

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