- Out! Loud! Directed by Betty Bernhard
The latest documentary by Betty Bernhard (Pomona College, California) is a celebration of the LGBTQ community in Pune, Maharashtra, India. Bernhard takes a deep look at the lives of members of the LGBTQ community in [End Page 318] this Western Indian city while documenting the making of a play “To! Ti! Te!” (He! She! It!). The play, developed and directed by Sushama Deshpande and Zameer Kamble, incorporates real accounts from the lives of young LGBTQ persons in Pune. The actors come from various walks of life and have all been the victims of ridicule, sexual abuse, and mental trauma on account of their alternate sexualities. In this film they talk candidly about their lives and experiences, narrating moments of shame and self-hatred and finally the realization of not being alone and there being nothing wrong with them except that, as Zameer Kamble states, “The external world is not ready” for them.
At the beginning of the film, we see a male actor putting on makeup and stagehands setting up lights in preparation for the performance. The next sequence is an interview with Sujit,1 who tells us the story of how he came to realize that he was gay as a child while playing make-believe. What follows after this gripping opening sequence is a series of candid anecdotes from actors. Avani recalls how he got into sex work after being approached for sexual services online and his attending to both men and women clients because he is comfortable with either and feels that he has “certain qualities” that he can cash in on. Avani also tells us how as a young person he did not enjoy playing with his male cousins and how all of them ignored him during play hours, but came to him at night when they wanted physical intimacy. Mayur, choreographer of “To! Ti! Te!,” recounts his first sexual encounter with a male relative and how his family continues to blame his dancing for his “girlishness.” Parikshit talks in detail about how he learned about sex from “blue films,” including gay pornography that a male friend exposed him to and his initial aversion to it, but found his first experience of sex with the same man enjoyable.
Some of the interviewees talk about how exposure to gender studies and feminist research gave them a vocabulary, which was hitherto unavailable, to talk about themselves and their sexuality. Pushkar Ekbote explains the present status of the LGBTQ community in India and recalls the injunction issued by the Delhi High Court in 2009 striking down the dreaded Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code. The article, a British legacy, criminalized any sexual activity “against the order of nature” (Indian Penal Code of 1860, http://districtcourtallahabad.up.nic.in/articles/IPC.pdf). The section was devised to prevent and criminalize homosexual associations—particularly sodomy, but it could be extended to any sexual act, not just those involving penile insertion. Thus, consensual heterosexual acts such as fellatio and digital penetration could also be punishable under this law. The striking down of the article decriminalized same-sex behavior between consenting adults. Pushkar explains that this means that homosexuality is now not a criminal offense in areas under the jurisdiction of the Delhi High Court, but it cannot be extended to the entire country since the judgment is pending hearing at the Supreme Court of India.2
The interviewees often recount incidents when the legal system in the country has not come to their rescue but has instead tried to prosecute them for being homosexuals. Stories of rapes in police stations, abusive military personnel, and abusive male relatives, teachers, and professors all make their way [End Page 319] into the film as well as the narrative of the play they are devising. A particularly telling part of the film is the chilling description given by Vivek, who was picked up by a few middle-aged men as he was walking back home one night and brutally raped (the perpetrators called it “enjoyment”) inside a car. He says that...