Acclaimed Indian film director, Onir, premiered his highly-anticipated film Pine Cone at the Indian Film Festival Of Melbourne – representing the challenges and triumphs of LGBTQI rights in India.
The independent film made its Australian premiere on Sunday, showing the semi-autobiographical story of filmmakers’ three distinctive romances throughout the evolving political landscape of India in the past 20 years.
Pierced together in reverse chronological order, the film follows protagonist Sid Mehra (Vidur Sethi) and their relationships in three different years matching periods of historical queer progress in India.
Star Observer spoke with Onir on his film’s testament to the beauty of love and identity, and the political challenges among Indian LGBTQI+ communities today.
The Queer Gaze
Onir is one of the few out gay filmmakers in the mainstream Hindi film industry in India, often referred to as Bollywood. His previous works include the acclaimed HIV drama My Brother Nikhil and I Am – an anthology film, in which one of the four short films dealt with India’s now-repealed law that criminalised homosexuality and its impact on the LGBTQI community.
Pine Cone, features a beautiful love story, made for the “queer gaze.” Onir revealed the story initially came from a place of “frustration and anger”.
The Defence Ministry previously decided to ban his script about a real-life love story of a queer army man, which Onir challenged and won.
“I was very frustrated because it was based on a real-life thing. At the same time, it for me was empowering because it started a conversation,” says Onir.
“Over the last few years, there are a few queer-themed films that are coming out in India, but mostly made from a very heteronormative gaze, only looking at acceptance and how we have to fit into the heteronormative world,” he continued.
Whilst he began to write his autobiography, I Am Onir And I Am Gay, he also decided to “make a film which is about queer love, queer desire… without having to negotiate with the studios conforming to the heteronormative gaze.”
Onir wanted Pine Cone to focus on the intimacy of queer Indian relationships whilst noting the sustained fight for LGBTQI+ equality.
Onir says, “What really saddens me is that we have almost spent a lifetime being treated and still not treated as equal citizens. I feel that there’s so much resistance… How does it affect someone else’s life or happiness if I find my happiness with my partner and get married?”
Showcasing The Joys Of The Community
Driving the film’s openly queer characters narrative, Onir wanted to showcase the “joys” of the community without the perspective of the outside heteronormative world.
“All the characters are gay (men) and women… because our fight is against the common resistance by the patriarchy,” he explains.
With Pine Cone being one of the first mainstream Bollywood films to cast a queer actor in the leading role, Onir wanted to “empower” the queer gaze and represent its “different and beautiful” perspective.
However, the choice to independently make the film came with its challenges. Onir says that many actors initially a part of the film were “not comfortable with intimacy,” which led a few to step away from the film due to “how they would be perceived.”
“It’s sad that very often people use the word ‘brave.’ But unfortunately, it’s because of the scenario that it becomes a brave act to just be another human being,” says Onir, expressing his gratitude to the film’s cast for helping him show his “extension of love” within the film.
Moving Forward With Pride
In June, Pine Cone opened for the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, which left Onir in awe watching the audience “laugh, cry, and relate” to the film.
“I hope that the film finds a home in terms of distribution and OTT platforms so that people can see the film. It’s all about how it’s so easy to accept love. Hate is a lot more difficult,” he explained.
“Right now, there is this whole discourse of marriage equality happening, I feel that in a small way, if I could contribute to more people celebrating inclusiveness and diversity, that is all that I’ve always wanted to do with my films.”
In mentioning his film-making future, Onir plans to continue branching parts of his own identity into his film. “I want to find a way to tell the stories because it’s my identity, and I don’t think anyone has the right to shut me up.”
Dawning a proud smile across his face, Onir says, “The more the resistance, the more I desire to tell the stories.”