Onir talks about ‘I Am’ winning the prestigious National Award


This article was last updated on April 16, 2022

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OnirBarely able to control his emotions, Onir whose film I Am was declared the Best Hindi Film at the 59th National Film Awards said, “It’s not just a personal triumph. It’s a victory on a much larger level for gay filmmakers and films who have been so far sidelined not just from the National awards but also the popular awards.”

Onir sees the irony of his film on homosexuality getting a green signal from the government at a time when Section 377 is again under scrutiny. “Hopefully we filmmakers would be able to function in an atmosphere of more tolerance and freedom, now that the government clearly says that a film about homosexuality is not sinful. We made no money on I Am. Hopefully, now after the National award we’d be able to a cut a decent deal over the satellite rights.”

Ironically at a time when the National awards say it’s okay to be gay, I Am was passed for satellite viewing with a UA (parental guidance) censor certification.

Onir says he fought tooth and nail against the cuts and the certification. “What is the sense of a UA on satellite where children have unhampered access to content on television? I fought with all my strength to retain the kissing scene between my two gay characters played by Rahul Bose and Arjun Mathur. But the censor board took it off. I guess its okay for a man and woman to kiss on screen, but not two men.”

Ruing the fact that I Am did not win a single popular award, Onir said, “It’s been a very hard struggle for me to make this film. We made it with independent funds, since no studio was willing to back a film that dealt with alternate sexuality. Fortunately, I was blessed with some of the most dedicated actors who gave their soul to the film.”

Onir’s next film too would deal with alternate sexuality. Does he intend to create a cinematic agenda out of homosexuality, like Rituparno Ghosh has done?

Getting defensive, Onir says, “I see nothing wrong in Ritu-da’s concentration on films dealing with alternate sexuality. When a majority of filmmakers can concentrate on heterosexual relations, why can’t a few of us create more awareness on gay issues through our cinema? I’m not saying all my films would be based on gay issues. But if the theme fits into my creative scheme, why not?”

At the moment Onir celebrates what he sees as a triumph of alternate sexuality in Indian cinema. “So far we were so swamped in prejudices that any mention of homosexuality on screen was stifled. The National award for my film on homosexuality comes at a time when we desperately need to overcome prejudices against the gay community.”

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