Book Extract from filmmaker Onir's first person account: '...I Am Gay'
A moving tale of a man seeking warmth, affection and love and being judged for being gay
I was also aware that he was gay, though I didn’t know if he was actually seeing someone. We met one evening over wine and dinner and chatted a lot. I saw his work, and since he had wanted me to be honest with him, I told him that it was very bad. We flirted and got a little physical with each other.
It was refreshing for me as he never talked about work or any favour he needed from me; he was, in fact, affectionate and promised to take me to his home town. We parted as friends, promising to meet more often, and the next morning he even sent me some sweet messages.
Then came the shock, and my world collapsed. I got a call from a journalist that the fellow had reached out to her and told her that I had molested him. I would never ever deny that we had gotten physical with each other, but it was not true that I had molested him.
I did get intimate with him, but it was consensual. I told her that it was unfair that she should make news out of this as there was no case against me, and that she was just doing it on the basis of a false claim. But then, yellow journalism is what it is . . .
The headlines of the publication, circulated all over the country, had my photograph alongside his, saying that I had allegedly molested him. I was alone in my flat, feeling numb, crying, blaming myself for seeking love and desire, confused about why he did what he did.
I had never felt that anything happened that evening to make either of us uncomfortable. I was worried how my friends, my crew, Baba and Ma in Calcutta, my sister and her family, Sanjay and his family, Bhai would take it.
I received a call from Baba and Ma. I cried on the phone, and they said that they loved and trusted me and told me to fight it. Soon, all my assistants came to tell me how much they loved me. My friends Sanjay, Mukesh Sawlani and Amar Kaushik were there, discussing how to handle the situation. My friend from Humsafar Trust, Vivek Anand, immediately offered legal help. Writing about the incident brings back the pain, even after ten years.
My landlady called me up and told me that she knew me well enough and not to worry, that truth would prevail. Didi was initially very angry with me and told me that I should think a little about the repercussion that my family would face, that my niece in school might face.
I was broken—did it mean that I stop living my life because someone else was trying to malign me? Just because I am gay, do I not have the right to love, to flirt, to desire, to make mistakes and learn? Some people told me that I should never have anything to do with someone from the industry.
How unfair is that, since actors will date actresses, directors and producers date others from the industry from the opposite sex, doctors and nurses fall in love and marry people from the same profession, as do teachers and sundry others? Am I not supposed to do the same because I am gay? As long as I do not misuse my position, make false promises or force myself on anyone, why should I be denied the right everyone else has?
I think Didi’s initial reaction was out of confusion and a sense of helplessness and not knowing what to do. The next day, she started an online campaign to gather support for me. She called up and wrote to people from the industry who knew her or me and got them to endorse me on social media. She believed me totally when I told her that I had not molested this guy.
It was decided that I should file a police complaint, and for the first time in my life, I went to a police station. I will be forever grateful to Amar for accompanying me, shielding me from the humiliation and harassment and dealing with the police. On my own, I would have broken down or collapsed. Though I was the one making the complaint, I was asked all kinds of insulting questions and was told that my parents hadn’t brought me up properly and I had grown up behaving like an animal, like a buffalo.
They suggested that I should ideally be kept in a lock-up since I indulge in such sinful activity. All this while they were looking at me and laughing, saying they could tell that I could never have molested that guy! It was Amar who, while feeling furious at how I was being treated, laughed and joked with the cops and handled the entire process of registering our complaint. I guess I was kind of lucky as this happened during the brief period when the Delhi High Court had decriminalized homosexuality (2009–2013), and though I was not under Delhi jurisdiction, I was still spared the worst treatment.
The next day, my lawyer Usha Andelwal advised that we should file a defamation case for Re 1. I was also touched that the person with whom I was having an on-and-off relationship at the time came to meet me and gave me a hug with reassurance, love and warmth. He decided to spend the next few nights with me so that I wouldn’t be too depressed. That was a kind gesture.
What moved me the most is when Ambika came with the two boys and told me that she needed me to babysit them for a couple of hours—her love and trust meant the world to me. Sanjay and Amar were constantly at work figuring out what to do. Most mainstream television networks kept away from this as they thought it was more gossip than fact. The case did not hold beyond a week, but it left me scarred for a very, very long time. Healing was not easy.
I think I couldn’t step out of the house for nearly a month. I felt as though everyone was judging me. I didn’t go to the park for at least three months. I was going for a meeting one afternoon, and as I was walking outside City Mall, a young girl stopped me and said, ‘I have seen your photograph.’
I felt numb; I had never thought that this would become my identity. The girl then said, ‘I just wanted to tell you that you don’t look like that kind of person, and I trust you.’ I don’t think that girl ever knew how much her words meant to me, but after that, I started going out once again.
When after this extremely painful incident I received the National Award for I Am in 2012, I felt vindicated.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)
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