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QDoc Saturday Film Review – I Am

I am is filmmaker Sonali Gulati’s coming out letter to her mother.  Eleven years after her mother’s death, Sonali explores the possibilities of how her mother might have reacted to her sexuality by returning to her childhood home in New Delhi and gathering the coming out stories of Indian queers and their parents.

Some might think a film of coming out stories from a country which only decriminalized homosexuality in 2009 would be intolerably grim.  But the film includes many heartfelt interviews with Indian parents philosophizing on parental acceptance, the meaning of unconditional love and the process of letting your children become who they are. Some of these parents showed real bravery to stick by their kids and to change their own expectations.  They’ve challenged the expectations of their extended families and a society that is very focused on heterosexual marriage.  Many are clearly still struggling with it, but there is a lot of love in this film.

One family even overcomes their considerable shock to end up holding their son’s wedding to another man in their own apartment.  It’s beautiful, and totally made me cry in that good way.  All of the parents in the film have reached some level of acceptance, and some of them even wave rainbow flags and march down the street in a small Pride Parade in Delhi.

Gulati doesn’t show it all with a rose colored lens.  One interviewee loses his family and nearly his life after his elopement.  This part also made me cry, but not in that good way.  Many on the street don’t think India is ready to accept homosexuality, or even that it should.  The Dr. Dilbag clinic, an international chain which purports to cure homosexuality with homeopathy, is still doing good business in Delhi.  There is clearly a long way to go when coming out is limited to those with socially liberal parents and those who deem they can take the social and economic risk of losing their family or not getting married.

I am shows India at a time when gay rights are gaining coverage in the media.  The filmmaker is a guest on a ladies talk show, and Delhi strikes down section 377, lifting the ban on homosexuality.  Queer marriages make the front page, and Prince Manvedra becomes the first out royal by coming out as a gay man after his divorce.  “I am” reminds us that as the fight for Gay Rights continues, it takes it’s own path in every country.  And we won’t be done fighting until coming out and being queer is no longer a privilege to those who can afford it, or to those with more liberal leaning parents, but is truly a right everywhere.  We don’t know what Gulati’s mom might have said had she had the chance to come out to her, but I hope that the filmmaker is reassured by the stories of love, adaptation and acceptance that she gathered in I am.

Trailer:

I Am screens today at 4p at the Clinton St Theater

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