Ligy Pullappally is the director of The Journey, a new film making the festival rounds in the U.S., and the first film to seriously address lesbian love in India since Fire in 1996. In a new interview, she talks to us about lesbianism in India, the movie, and the tragic true story that inspired it.
Warning: this interview contains spoilers for the movie.
AE: Has your movie screened in India?
LP: It has screened in India. It was a selection at the Indian International Film Festival in January of this year and at the Bombay International Film Festival shortly thereafter.
AE: And what has the reception been like in India?
LP: Well, it’s been varied reactions. When it screened before outside of the state that I shot the film in, the reactions have been great and the critics have loved the film and it won awards and things like that. However, within the state I shot it–I had one public screening in the state of Kerala and there there was a lot of very vocal opposition to the subject matter of the film. Not necessarily whether it was a good film or not but just heckling along the lines of “You’re trying to turn our kids gay.”
AE: So there’s maybe more of a concern with how it’s portraying Keralans whereas people in other states didn’t have such a problem with the portrayal because maybe it’s not necessarily reflecting them–or they can make that assumption.
LP: That’s exactly it. I guess it’s when it’s in your own backyard, it’s a whole different story altogether. And there’s no distance from it when the characters are speaking your language and it’s your community. I think that’s where the criticism came. But at that same screening there was actually a large number of the queer community who came. Although they were vocal in their support during the question and answer period after the film, the interesting thing is they came up to me in private to say they were members of the community and thanking me for making the film. So that was the first public screening in Kerala and it was the third festival that I was at–a touring festival called Made By Women. It’s a festival in India that goes to eight major cities, from Trivandrum in the South to New Delhi and Calcutta in the north, and all the films were made by women. However, mine was the only one made by an Indian woman in that festival because of the fact that there are so few Indian women making films.
AE: So it’s basically an international festival and it tours only within India?
LP: That’s right. It’s an international festival and all the films have women at the helm. Oh, and one of the interesting things, I did win an award in India. It’s a critics’ award, though. That was the Special Jury Prize of the John Abraham award, which basically says that my film was the second best film in 2004. Another film was named first place, and I don’t know if the lesbian element had anything to do with me coming in second or not, but in any event, it is a big honor to receive that award from the state where I made the film.
AE: It sounds like there’s been a lot of concern with how it portrays a community, which is interesting because that’s a theme within the film itself for obvious reasons. It seems that there’s a lot of concern within, say, Delilah’s family about how it looks to the neighbors. That sort of thing.
AE: Which is an international theme.
LP: [Laughs] You draw interesting parallels, but yeah, that’s absolutely true.
AE: You’ve been touring festivals in this country as well. How many screening have you had so far in the U.S.?
LP: Oh, I just actually wrote it down because I’m preparing a memo. The film was just picked up by Wolfe distribution–that’s late breaking news. So, it screened at the following mainstream festivals: Chicago, Palm Springs, Indian International in Mumbai (that’s Bombay International), Washington D.C. and Seattle International. Then at the following LGBT festivals: Boston, Inside Out Toronto, Newfest in New York, Frameline in San Francisco, and it has upcoming screenings in Outfest L.A. and at the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It’s also been screening at women’s festivals and South Asian festivals, so it screened at the Made By Woman film festival and at the Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles.