The Indian Film Festival comes to Sydney and Melbourne this month, with a couple of intriguing queer-themed flicks to be found amongst the expected Bollywood glitz and glamour.

Receiving its Australian premiere at the festival, Just Another Love Story is an English-language drama about a transgender filmmaker who sets out to make a documentary about the real-life actor Chapal Bhaduri, who famously impersonated females on stage before women were allowed to act.

The closing night film, I Am, is another Australian premiere and one that has been touted as ‘pushing Indian cinema into brave new directions’.

Directed by the man reputed to be India’s only openly gay director, Onir, the drama tells four interwoven stories dealing with topics that still remain taboo for much of Indian society — sperm donors, child abuse, and gay relationships, in the form of a tale about a gay man who leaves himself vulnerable to blackmail by a male prostitute.

“These stories are stories of conflicts and dilemmas of modern Indian society. They were stories happening all around us and people can relate to them, though very often we don’t acknowledge that they exist,” Onir told the Star Observer.

Funded through donations made via sites like Facebook and Twitter, the film was a low-budget labour of love for Onir, his cast and crew, many of whom worked for free.

“[Social media fundraising] was an experiment we started and today we are happy to have more than 400 people from 45 cities across the world who have contributed financially or as volunteers to make this film possible,” he said.

“I very soon realised that the ‘usual channels’ do not have the passion or the guts to do something they perceive as ‘unusual’. This film needs people to use their brains to think how to market differently.”

Onir will travel to Australia for the festival along with Indian actress and producer Juhi Chawla, one of the stars of I Am. They will introduce the film and participate in a Q&A session after the screening.

People attending the sessions can expect to hear Onir speak passionately about how far his home country has to go when it comes to breaking down intolerance.

“I like to address issues of sexuality and gender because for me they are important human rights issues that need to be addressed. I am glad I do not shy away from addressing any of it.

“I strongly feel that every citizen, and that includes me, has the right to live a life of dignity and respect. [India] should, as a nation, be more bothered about the hatred that is killing our society.”

As Onir sees it, Indian filmmakers are not fulfilling their duty to enlighten audiences about the need to respect sexual diversity.

“The film industry, unfortunately, does not create cinema that enlightens. The film industry mostly reflects the homophobia that exists in the society, because that sells.”

info: I Am plays on March 19 in Sydney and March 20 in Melbourne as part of the Indian Film Festival. Visit www.indianfilmfestival.com.au

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