Interview with Ligy Pullappally

AE: Right. And in general there’s a lot of subtlety to the film. I found it beautiful and lyrical. I liked the way it wasn’t dialogue-heavy, there was a lot of just showing what was going on in their relationship. I was curious if you made a conscious decision not to have explicit love scenes. I was wondering if you thought that was unnecessary.
LP: Yes, I thought it was unnecessary because my intention’s always been that this is going to be released in Kerala–I’m still working towards that–and when the film is released in Kerala I want it to be positive and be a representation for young gay people, at least in the state but probably all over India, because the film is being screened in other cities, and different gay and lesbian organizations have requested the film in Delhi and Bangalore and places like that. And because the goal is positive representation and to get a mainstream community to see the film, get them in to see the film and get them to understand this as all about love, all about something natural, you know? And India is already very sensitive to sex, and even kissing is not really permissible in films. So a sex scene, like in a film like Better Than Chocolate, is never going to happen in Indian films.

And as for anything more explicit being shown–I didn’t want the film to be about sex. I wanted it to be about choice of love. And I didn’t want to cause a controversy just for the sake of causing a controversy, and I would have if I’d tried to include more sexual content.

And the other factor is that in order to get the rating that I did, which is a UA rating, which is equivalent to PG-13, I needed to be subtle in my depiction of their physical relationship with each other. And I did get the equivalent of a PG-13, which means that young people can enter the theater to see the film, and in turn their parents will understand that this is not an adult film that they should prevent their kids from going to. So there a lot of factors involved in why I made the scenes as subtle as I did. But personally I think the way I shot the sex scenes, as it were, I don’t think it leaves anything in doubt. I think it does engage the audience’s imagination for a part of the narrative, because they have to fill in those spaces between touches, and I think it is sensual enough.

AE: It would really make it a different project if you had been more explicit, and I can understand what you’re saying about trying to reach a wider audience. Do know if Fire had a UA rating as well?
LP: I highly doubt it.

AE: Have there been any films between Fire and this one–I’m sure there have been Bollywood films that have had a little lesbian aspect to it but probably more for the titillation. But in terms of any kind of serious examination, has there been any other film that’s been released or toured festivals?
LP: There are three films out of India with lesbian themes. One is Fire, two is The Journey, and three is a film called Girlfriend.

AE: Yes, I’ve actually seen that one.
LP: You have? [Laughs] I was actually thinking of throwing myself off the balcony during intermission just so I could avoid the second half.

AE: Yeah, it’s very different than your film.
LP: Actually, I just watched it because I figured there’d be questions about Girlfriend, not because I’d heard anything good about it. But that was Bollywood filmmaking on the subject, and the Bollywood take on it is to pathologize homosexuality. So you have this demon lesbian who doesn’t die after she’s stabbed, and ultimately has to be thrown from a balcony for the heterosexual couple to be free to live their lives.

Those are three. Then there are other films out there that have treated lesbianism as a very subtle side issue, but these are the only three that have dealt with it directly.

AE: How does your film continue your public interest work? I know you were a public interest attorney for a long time, and do you see a parallel in what you’re doing as a filmmaker now?
LP: Well, I don’t know how you can… I understand that films are all about entertainment. You have to make feature films to entertain people. The story has to move, the scene has to be interesting, the narrative has to be engaging. So that was foremost on my mind, along with the social agenda that I had, so yes, this film had activist reasons behind making it. I think that it’s going to be hard for me to move away from that. I’m planning on staying in feature filmmaking and I have another film in mind that I’m in the writing process for right now. It has both gay and lesbian themes, and I’m planning on shooting in India. But right now it’s just at the scriptwriting phase. The fact that I’m portraying people of different sexualities, I feel I have a social responsibility when I do that.

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