For almost four years after he had come out to his mother, filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan would have regular conversations with her
Those conversations along with stories he had heard from his gay friends and their parents over the years about the struggles of acceptance, inspired his much loved work Evening Shadows.
Like Vasudha, the protagonist of Evening Shadows played by actress Mona Ambegaonkar, Rangayan's mother comes from a small town in India.
"I came out to her on a dusky evening (thankfully at home and not on a boat in the middle of a river like in the movie!). She had to struggle a lot to accept my sexual identity; especially since she is a housewife living in a small town where speaking about such subjects is total taboo even today in 2021!" Rangayan told Likho in an email interview.
Since its release in 2018, Evening Shadows continues to win accolades and collect awards from around the world - it has won 24 awards and screened at 75 international film festivals. Recently, the London Indian Film Festival marked LGBT+ History Month with a screening of Evening Shadows in the United Kingdom.
"The film has resonated with audiences not only in India but across the world, to audiences of diverse ethnicities; not only to LGBTQ children and their parents but also to parents in general. We have managed to create a mainstream gay film that centred and balanced its depiction of the struggles of the community and its families," said Rangayan, who won a National Award for Best Editing for his previous film 'Breaking' Free and is the festival director of South Asia's biggest LGBTQI film festival, KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival.
Rangayan and his partner Saagar Gupta (who also wrote the lyrics) wrote the film with the idea that the film should be universal in its narrative but at the same time mainstream in its appeal. The film won support even before it was made - the cast discounted their fees and community and allies financially backed the film through crowdfunding.
The universal acceptance that the film has witnessed after its release could have something to do with the fact that it talks about families.
"The family in Evening Shadows could be any family in any small town in India. The issue need not be about their son’s homosexuality but could be about any other issue – like the son marrying a person of a different religion, etc. The opposition to anything against set social mores would create the same conflict between generations," said Rangayan.
"We wanted to create a film that shows a universal narrative about the set social morals of an older generation and the aspirations of a newer generation. But we definitely did not want to airbrush the homosexuality angle as many mainstream films on this topic do. We have kept it at the centre of the conflict but made a call for universal acceptance," the filmmaker explained.
The central premise of the film is about a gay son coming out to his mother, but Rangayan points to the other sub-plot in the film - about a mother coming out as a woman in a patriarchal society.
"The seeming conflict in Evening Shadows is about the sexuality of the son, but the bigger issue is patriarchy, which is predominant in most societies in India. Patriarchy suppresses everything that is non-cis, non-heteronormative – which means it not only affects women but even LGBTQI and other sexual minorities. In the film both Vasudha, the mother, and Kartik, the son, are victims of patriarchy and they have to stand up against its perpetrator Damodar, the father. It is not that the father is evil or a villain, but he is a product of a centuries-old system of patriarchy that I believe is the root cause of most social maladies."
Homophobia also has a deep connection with patriarchy, according to Rangayan.
"Homophobia comes from ignorance and the fear that it seems to challenge age-old patriarchal morals. This threatens cis- heterosexual men, and to maintain control and status quo, they would seek refuge in religion and morality. The only way to fight it would be to create awareness that homosexuality is natural and inborn. We can do it through films, books, poetry, art – anything that can kick start conversations and open up minds."
"In fact, the patriarchal men are the ones who need help in coming out of the closet – out of their closeted minds!" added Rangayan.
Three years after its release the film is still going strong at festivals as well as on Netflix, where it regularly features among the most-watched LGBTQI film on the streaming platform.
"We wanted to convey to everyone across the world that we have to have genuine conversations to overcome all barriers – be it homophobia or misogyny – and to truly accept and embrace diverse viewpoints and aspirations."