How To Accept Your Child’s Sexuality 101: A Guide By Sridhar Rangayan And Mona Ambegaonkar
- IWB Post
- November 14, 2017
Hi, my lovelies! How have you all been?
I have some great news to share! There’s a new film based on the LGBT community coming in 2018! It makes me so delighted that LGBT genre is making its own contribution to movies in India.
Okay, let me tell you about this movie first. It’s called ‘Evening Shadows (Surmaee Shaam),’ and it focuses on parents of LGBT people, especially in rural India and the challenges they face in coming to terms with their children’s sexuality.
I got in touch with Mr. Sridhar Rangayan, the director of the film and the lead actress, Ms. Mona Ambegaonkar, who is a well-known name in the Hindi TV industry. She portrays the role of a mother named Vasudha, who struggles to accept her son, Karthik’s sexuality.
The director, Mr. Sridhar, also happens to be the co-founder of The Humsafar Trust. Does that name ring a bell? Humsafar Trust is the same organization that helped Reshel Shah Kapoor crowdfund for her movie, ‘Black Sheep.’ Remember her, yeah?
Anywho, both Mr. Sridhar and Ms. Mona had lots to share with me, and I am going to pour it all out!
How did you come up with the idea?
Mr. Sridhar: I have been making films on LGBT topics for the past 10 years consistently. Being a gay man and part of the LGBT community, I have always felt that it is important to have our stories onscreen to communicate to the larger audience our struggles, triumphs, our pain, our happiness, our lives. Our earlier films ‘Gulabi Aaina’, ‘Yours Emotionally!’, ’68 Pages’, ‘Purple Skies,’ ‘Breaking Free’ have dealt with various facets of the Indian LGBT community and their stories.
Will the film highlight the issue of bullying faced by people in the LGBT community?
Mr. Sridhar: The film highlights the discrimination faced not only by LGBT persons but also the stigma and alienation battled by parents of LGBT children. Especially in rural India, parents and families feel pressurized to hide such issues from the society because they are afraid.
How should parents of LGBT kids react to the society saying ‘it’s just a phase?’
Mr. Sridhar: Firstly, parents should understand themselves and be convinced that it is not a ‘phase.’ Only then can they tell their families, friends, neighbors, and society that he/she is my child and I stand with him/her all the way. We need films like ‘Evening Shadows (Surmaee Shaam)’ to help parents understand that sexuality is an intrinsic and natural part of every person, and it is not a ‘preference’ or ‘choice.’
What is your favorite LGBT movie?
Mr. Sridhar: One of my favorite LGBT films is ‘Prayers for Bobby’ starring Sigourney Weaver, based on true life incidents, about a very orthodox and religious mother coming to terms with her son’s sexuality. The film emotionally moves you so much that you want to do everything in your possible limit to end homophobia. It is a great film for parents to watch and understand.
India shows the same sex in mythological stories and temples. What is stopping us from being accepting now?
Mr. Sridhar: I think colonial rule whitewashed many Indian cultural ethe. They brought in a strange sense of morality which centers around sin and punishment. That was never there in Indian culture, which celebrated the diversity of all forms. But let us not only blame colonialism because even patriarchy is a huge barrier to nurturing diversity. It is not only LGBT persons who are marginalized but also women. In India, especially rural India, women are seen as mere caretakers, and their voices are often muffled. ‘Evening Shadows (Surmaee Shaam)’ is also about a woman stuck in a patriarchal environment and how through the son’s coming out, comes out herself as a woman.
How can parents become more accepting towards their children’s sexuality?
Mr. Sridhar: Love is the first and foremost binding factor. A family who loves each other sticks to each other. And the other most important factor is honesty. Each family member has to be honest with each other – share their true feelings, and also share their inner demons. That’s the only way to nourish and nurture love.
Now, moving on to Ms. Mona.
What sort of research did you do for your role? What conversations did you have with parents of people from the LGBT community?
Ms. Mona: I am a parent, so no extra research is required in that direction. Besides, this will be my third stint as the mother of a homosexual boy on screen & stage. I have played a similar character in the iconic play ‘EK Madhavbaug’ by Chetan Datar & then again as the tough politician from Haryana in a TV series titled ‘Maryada.’
Over the years that I have been performing ‘EK Madhavbaug,’ I have interacted with many parents of LGBT children, & sharing those experiences alone will take up an entire interview. Many of them have now become my friends. Amongst the LGBTQI community, I am not an unknown person. Through my play, I have been actively working for Awareness, Justice, Equality, Health & Human Rights for all persons who identify themselves within this spectrum. And beyond. This film ‘Evening Shadows (Surmaee Shaam)’ and this role, in particular, has been mine to play since the script was first written 7 years ago. It feels like I have been preparing for it ever since.
In what way has this role challenged you?
Ms. Mona: Vasudha, my character in ‘Evening Shadows (Surmaee Shaam),’ is diametrically my opposite. She is long-suffering and willing to sacrifice her every dream to make her family members happy. She has not learned to say ‘no’ and lives within the social boundaries drawn for her without questioning them.
The pivotal difference between this mother of a gay son and the others that I have played is the total lack of a visible combative core in this woman. Vasudha has a different kind of strength. One that keeps most women in conservative, hypocritical, semi-urban & rural societies all over India from collapsing, in the face of the sheer hard-work and lack of a psychological support structure in their daily lives. It’s an awesome kind of strength.
Personally, I have never bothered about anybody’s opinion about my family or me, which is dramatically opposite to the way Vasudha thinks. Also, personally, I don’t have the same reactions to dominating or opinionated men like Damodar, Vasudha’s husband, as she has.
So loaning myself to her for the duration of the film is going to be my toughest battle. Letting her live in my skin – now that’s going to be the real challenge.
What reactions did you receive from family and friends on hearing about your role?
Ms. Mona: Actually, I have never consulted my family or sought their approval when choosing a role. That is entirely my prerogative, and after being an actress for about 30 years now, they know that I know what I’m doing. They keep sending me clippings of all the news related to this film that has been coming out in the press recently. I know they are proud of the path I have taken, along with all its falls and all its triumphs, in my career.
As far as friends go, they are welcome to offer suggestions and criticism about the quality of the work I render. Beyond that, the truth is, I don’t have friends that get to have a say in my choice of roles.
A stereotype that you had about LGBT that you overcame through this role?
Ms. Mona: Actually I didn’t ever have a ‘stereotype about LGBT’ community. I have always been instinctively aware of the vast varieties of human beings teeming all over this earth – be they Straight or Crooked, Gay or Sad, Inca or Eskimo!
A few years into my stint with my play, my Executive Producer told me that, perhaps unknown to me, I have always been a ‘fag-hag’ (now that’s an affectionate term for “lady who hangs out with incredible, intelligent, sexy gay men who will never have a romantic interest in her and who provides the perfect cover to those of them that are still in the closet at social gatherings of judgemental “straight people”). I loved finally finding out who I really was. (Hehehe!)
Over time I have met many lesbians as well and realized they are even more amazing. This is perhaps because they are not driven by the patriarchal forces that govern even women as emancipated as I pretend to be. Imagine the threat a well-educated, articulate, wealth generating, tax-paying Lesbian Woman who has the courage to live life on her terms is signaling to the throttling patriarchy that controls our society. I envy them, and I am rooting for them all the way!!
In this case, a stereotype about the LGBT that you want to combat with this role?
Ms Mona: Since I am not the LGBT character in the film (though I would certainly love to be able to take that, more difficult path as an actor, someday), ‘combating the stereotype’ is going to be a battle that the actor playing my son is going to have to fight. My battle is going to be very different.
It’s going to be about taking my character’s inner strength and translating it into a powerful, external, supportive action that will attempt to, hopefully with some success, make my son’s journey of claiming his identity in public, less traumatic.
Are you ready to face/confront trolls?
Ms. Mona: Oh yeah. Bring ’em on.
Remember, Mona is not Vasudha.
Mona is combative. Vasudha is long-suffering.
And when they get together, they win. Period.
What other genres of films are you looking forward to doing in the future?
Ms. Mona: Whatever I am offered.
At my age, the choice of roles is limited, and they are not always offered to me. It is a real pity that there are no scripts written, hardly any stories told, about middle-aged and pot-bellied women who have birthed those youngsters whose interminable vapid love-stories or ‘action-films’ are the main staple of cinema.
We, forty plus women, are the ones that pushed out the Social, Thought and Career horizons so that younger women, from all sorts of backgrounds, could be empowered with the freedoms they enjoy today. And we have hardly any stories told about us.
I would really like to do films, whatever their ‘genre’, that tells the stories of women who went to work in fields that were not considered ‘appropriate’ or ‘safe’ or ‘suitable’ for them and who made personal life choices/decisions that didn’t end at being ‘a good wife’ or a ‘good mother’.
TRAILER OF FEATURE FILM ‘EVENING SHADOWS (Surmaee Shaam)’ Set in South India and Mumbai, ‘Evening Shadows (Surmaee Shaam)’ is a tender heartwarming story about a mother-son bond that has to withstand the ravages of time, distance and truths. On a road trip that the mother & son take, truth spill out, ripping the tIes apart.
This article was first published in November 2016.