Some movies are labors of love that somehow charm you, all flaws aside. Documentaries that fit that description, well, they’re a lot more likely than a scripted movie to get a pass from me. I may be behaving too flexible with one and too inflexible with the other, but there’s something about telling real stories through the very real people who experienced them that makes me forgive a lot. Purple Skies is the most recent example of this.
Purple Skies showcases the stories of several lesbians, bisexual women and trans men living in India. Through interviews with community members and activists, the movie exposes us to how these LBT individuals get by in a society that is predominately patriarchal and where laws still exist prohibiting homosexual acts.
That right there is why you should watch this movie–it’s an education. Only LBT people living in India can tell you what it’s like to be an LBT person living in India today. And it’s been a ride.
We hear from people of various backgrounds, ages and experiences, starting with Betu Singh, who in 1997 started Sangini Trust–the first lesbian crisis helpline and organization in New Delhi. Sadly, Singh died in 2013, before Purple Skies even finished filming.
While Singh said she never felt traumatized over her sexual orientation growing up, many women did and still do. Outlets like Sangini Trust and similar groups are essential. This is especially true when you consider that many (perhaps most) LBT individuals in India feel isolated, as society dictates that women should not go out on their own.
And when they try to make it on their own, there can be some serious consequences. The documentary highlights the story of a lesbian couple that went off to live together, only for one of the women’s parents to file a police complaint, claiming that their daughter stole from them. As we hear several more times throughout the movie, false accusations to garner police and court involvement are not atypical.
Then there are other stories that are even more tragic–like that of Christy Jayanthi Malar, 38, and Rukmani, 40, of Chennai, who set themselves on fire and burned to death while embracing. This happened as a direct result of their families trying to separate them.
But the film’s not all tears. No, there’s a real sense of hope with India’s LBT youth, many clearly feeling comfortable in their own skin and living their lives openly. And India has an activist culture as well, with several community organizers and academics calling for the repeal of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which states that homosexuality is a criminal offense).
We also see some headway in terms of trans issues, with individuals in India successfully transitioning. But full victory is still a way’s away, and even support workers who specialize in LBT issues say more information around trans issues needs to become available in India.
You’ll learn all this from watching Purple Skies. You’ll also get a good dose of cheesy music, bad lighting, and audio problems. This is not a Bollywood budget movie. But I’ve wasted enough time with bad Hollywood movies (and yes, even Bollywood ones) to be able to say that if I’m learning something, I’m happy. You may just say the same.
Visit the movie’s Facebook page to find out when it’s playing at an LGBT film festival near you.