Around this time last year, I was approached by ClockWork Films, a Leeds-based production company headed by award-winning director Heenan Bhatti, about pitching an idea to Sheffield DocFest, the biggest documentary festival in the country.
I am massively interested in identity, and especially intersectional identity, so I knew I wanted to explore the stories of a doubly marginalised group: queer South Asians (or “gaysians”).
I pitched the idea to Sheffield DocFest, and I was shortlisted to the final four. I was up against producers and directors, and I was only a researcher – who had been working full-time in television less than a year! I delivered a presentation in front of four commissioners and an audience of around 100 industry professionals. Whilst we did not immediately get the commission, the film was put into funded development. We re-pitched the idea two months later and received a commission!
The film is very relevant and topical, especially because of the manufactured culture wars regarding gender identity. There are some issues and stories we sadly did not get to explore but you can only do so much with a 45-minute film.
I would have loved to have explored the long history of gender-queer people in India. The hijra (eunuchs, intersex people and transgender people) have a recorded history in the Indian subcontinent since antiquity. They were revered as demigods prior to colonialism. Starting in the 19th century, hijras were targeted by British colonial authorities who sought to eradicate them, criminalised under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (1860), and labelled as a criminal tribe in 1871. This encouraged anti-hijra sentiments throughout the Indian subcontinent, the legacies of which continued in the post-colonial era, even though South Asian countries have scrapped anti-Hijra laws and accepted the existence of a third gender.
The other issue I hoped to explore was racism in the queer community (especially from White gay men, the arbiters of the LGBT community). Queer South Asians are doubly marginalised, insofar as they face both racism and homophobia. Homophobia exists everywhere but it can be especially intense in South Asian communities. What’s worse, queer Asians also experience discrimination in the ostensibly liberal queer community. The first article I ever wrote (though not the first to be published) was about the hypocrisy of marginalised communities, who fight only for their own rights,
Alas, we could not do everything, but the film explores many relevant topics, tells untold stories, and hopes to inspire.
Bend It Like Bollywood
Dancer Vinay tries to stage the biggest event of his career and change his life forever in a brand new documentary for BBC Three from Leeds based ClockWork Films, Bend it Like Bollywood
Vinay gives a whole new meaning to Bollywood. A gender non-conforming dancer who believes you don’t have to dance like a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ but can do it in a non-gendered way, and he’s put his belief on the line by opening his own Bollywood dance classes in his own image. Calling them Bollyqueer, they’ve proved successful with attendances high, valuing Vinay’s unique and personal brand of dance.
But Vinay hasn’t always felt so free to be himself. Growing up in Leicester, he felt unable to live his life as a visibly out and queer person, worried what his community and family would think of his sexuality and way of life.
This led Vinay to suppress being gay so he could fit in with everyone around him. Feeling rejected by the people of his hometown, Vinay left for the bright lights and freedom of the capital.
Three years on he’s built a brand-new life in London: openly gay, gender non-conforming – a dazzling collection of sarees in tow – and running his own successful dance class, Bollyqueer.
But one thing’s always remained unresolved for Vinay: the freedom to be himself when he was growing up. And in this film, he takes a bold step: to return to his hometown of Leicester to launch his Bollyqueer dance classes.
But as Vinay looks to express who he is, he encounters unfinished business: can he bridge the gap of understanding between himself and his dad on his gender non-conformity? Or will the launch of Bollyqueer drive a wedge between them?
And as he looks to bring his unique, modern and personal take on Bollywood dance to the people of Leicester, can he be accepted by a community, which he felt rejected him when growing up?
Exploring gender, family and community, this moving and ultimately life-affirming film follows Vinay as he tries to bury the ghosts of his past as he puts it all on the line to stage the biggest show of his life.