Onir is one of the first directors in Hindi film industry who made us see the world of LGBTQ community, without using these characters for comic relief. In the process, he made several path breaking films that won accolades on national as well as international stage. He is currently working on two more exciting projects, both related to the sexual minorities.
His most well known work was the 2005 release 'My Brother… Nikhil', which speaks of the stigma faced by an HIV positive man in the early 90's. This movie has come up a lot in recent years in discussions about social change. It makes Onir happy to see the movie get its due, even if it comes a decade and a half later, as he thinks of movies as a way to promote societal changes.
Another path-breaking production of his was 2011's 'I Am'. It was an anthology of four short films with each protagonist talking about a taboo topic, including homosexuality. The film ended up winning the National Award for Best Film and went around the international festival circuit as well.
His upcoming movie is a sequel to this much acclaimed work, 'We Are'. The intention of this movie is to break the hetero-normative gaze of society, and Bollywood. "This film is a celebration of queer lives. It attempts to teach the heteronormative world to normalize their largely distorted gaze to see others' points of view and celebrate inclusion," the producer-writer-director said. Currently in its pre-production stage, the movie is expected to go on the floors next year.
Another pet project that he Onir recently announced on social media is a biopic on renowned filmmaker Riyad Wadia. Coming from an illustrious film family, his most notable work was the 1996 documentary 'BOMgAY' which was perhaps the first gay themed movie of India.
He said of how there is much more feminine energy in filmmaking in the recent years due to the emphasis on empowering women. This meant that more and more women went behind the camera - to write stories, direct movies and bring their own perspective alive. "They were successful in removing the patriarchal perspective and male gaze from storytelling in Hindi movies. Similarly, the queer gaze is important to empower queer voices to tell their own stories. Most of the stories told now are from a perspective of a heteronormative society," reasons Onir.
The director believes that while portraying these stories on the celluloid, the character must be played by a person identifying as the same gender, especially in places where empowerment is not equal for different genders. "Earlier, mostly male actors used to play transgender characters on the silver screen. It makes more sense for transgender to play a transgender charachters because it is a different gender," he asserts.
However, he points that while having this debate people often get confused between gender and sexuality. "I don't think that actors identifying as gay or lesbian off-screen should be subjugated to roles of the sexual minority which nobody wants," he adds.
Onir believes that the less initiated ones would ask him that going by his logic should Muslims play Muslim characters only, and Hindus play Hindu characters. Clarifying that he doesn't mean to say this, he explains that he feels it is important to not limit an actor’s ability to adapt and expand based on something as fluid as sexuality.
2022 is going to be one exciting year for the filmmaker. Besides working on two exciting projects, he also plans to publish his memoir next year. This will offer rare glimpses from and insights into Onir’s life. From the challenges of dealing with his sexuality as a young boy in Bhutan to his love for the Hindi film industry, he plans to tell it all!
“I was initially a little hesitant about it, thinking it was too early to be writing my memoir," he says about his first thoughts regarding the book. It was while going through his social media feed that he realised that there were too many youngsters who messaged him on a daily basis. "They mainly express fear and confusion - being afraid to pursue their dreams, accepting and asserting their identity in terms of gender and sexuality," he informed. This realisation made him think his journey would resonate with some of these young people. It is with the hope that his experiences would help them live their dreams that he decided to bare his heart in the book.