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Exclusive : Homophobia is a Form of Intolerance, Says Hansal Mehta

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta talks about why he chose homophobia as the subject of his next film ‘Aligarh’.

Updated
Entertainment
4 min read
Hansal Mehta doing what he does best (Photo: Twitter/<a href="https://twitter.com/thegulfindian/status/622415531962822656">@thegulfindian</a>)

A homophobic shooter in Orlando enters a night club and ends 50 lives. A sting operation in Delhi reveals that ayurvedic doctors working at Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali clinics still believe homosexuality is a disease, a mental disorder.

The Quint believes its time to reach out… and offer #LoveToHomophobes. And as part of our campaign, we bring you this story from our archives.

With his last ‘true story’ Shahid (2012), Hansal Mehta won a National Award. And although his next film CityLights didn’t do much at the box office, it did receive critical acclaim. Aligarh, therefore, is special. The film is inspired by a real life incident and has the backing of a major film studio, so hopefully it will get its share of publicity before its nation wide release. The Quint got talking to director Hansal Mehta on more about his much awaited drama.

Like his earlier films, Aligarh already has a buzz around it at international film festivals. While it will open at the Busan Film Festival, it has also been selected for the London Film Festival. The British Film Institute pitches it at ‘probably the best film yet on the Indian gay male experience’ and also applauds Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao’s performances as ‘compelling’.

No wonder then, Hansal and his entire team are ecstatic.

Manoj Bajpayee in a scene from Hansal Mehta’s <i>Aligarh</i>
Manoj Bajpayee in a scene from Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh

Q: What prompted you to explore the real life story of the Aligarh professor’s suspension for being gay, in a film?
Hansal Mehta: The story came to me much later and then Apurva Asrani and I spoke about it, and I asked him to write it. It is loosely based on many true events, not any one particular event.

Q: Why the title Aligarh?
HM: We all live in our own small ‘Aligarhs’. It is a symbol of a society, which is increasingly intolerant and homophobic. Homophobia is a form of intolerance. The title of the film is symbolic. It doesn’t point fingers at anyone. It is a representation of the kind of world we are living in today.

Q: So, what is Aligarh about?
HM:
It’s a story of a professor who was suspended by his university for being gay and a reporter who chances upon this story, and how the pursuit of that develops into an unlikely story.

Q: Section 377 has been invoked by the Supreme Court again. In this scenario are you hopeful that the film will find a due release in our country?
HM: A film can never deal with something that is as specific as section 377, a law. Through your story, you make a point – a point, which leads you towards how section 377 is leading to such huge violations of human rights. If the film touches you at a human level, provokes you to think, it will also provoke you to think and participate in the debate about section 377.

Q: In the metros, most people know or have friends who are gay or lesbian and heterosexuals also participate in gay pride parades. So where does this phobia come from?
HM: It is our government’s apathy. Section 377 is forgotten because there are so many other important issues. When the Supreme Court invoked 377 again, there was a decision that had to be taken by the Parliament. It did not say that this section should be enforced. It said that the Parliament needs to decide upon this. It’s a parliamentary decision. It’s a legislature that the Parliament needs to reverse.

Rajkummar Rao and Manoj Bajpayee in a scene from Hansal Mehta’s <i>Aligarh</i>
Rajkummar Rao and Manoj Bajpayee in a scene from Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh

Q: How did you get Manoj Bajpayee to play a gay character?
HM: I didn’t do anything. An actor like Manoj jumps when he sees a character or a possibility to explore nuances in acting. They grab such opportunities and build on the role, with their own interpretation of the story. The only thing I can credit myself for, along with my casting director Mukesh Chhabra, is the casting of Manoj. Otherwise it is all his own interpretation of the character that he is playing.

Q: In Bollywood, gay characters are mostly caricatured. How did you make sure that you don’t go down that road in your story?
HM: I don’t know how to answer that question. There is no other way I know how to make films. I need to believe in my characters and to make them believable, I have to keep it real. Right from the script to the way it was shot, designed, locations- every department works in a way to keep it natural.

(The writer is a journalist and a contributing author of The Indian Woman, 30 Years of Vinod Chopra Productions and an upcoming book on Paan Singh Tomar. Follow her on Twitter: @priyankajain1)

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You can send in your love notes to lovetohomophobes@thequint.com. Or use the hashtag #LoveToHomophobes to post your messages on social media.

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