The Indian army has barred the release of Onir, a new film by critically renowned Indian director Onir that is inspired by a homose**xual army major who resigned and came out in a blaze of publicity.
Since coming to office eight years ago, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist administration has been accused of increasing restrictions. In 2020, it issued an order directing filmmakers to get prior approval for any military-themed script, a decision condemned as unlawful in the world’s greatest democracy by free speech activists.
Onir, who only goes by one name, is homose**xual and was one of the first significant Bollywood stars to openly admit to his se**xuality. He is well-known for his documentaries about the lives of socially disadvantaged people.
Major J. Suresh, who resigned the army and stated, “I’m homose**xual — and I’m extremely pleased that I’m gay,” piqued the filmmaker’s creative interest.
The retired army colonel had served in some of India’s most troubled areas, including Kashmir. Later, he delivered a groundbreaking interview on national television, which went viral in the country’s socially conservative society.
We Are, written by Onir, tells the lives of four people: a trans woman, a lesbian, a bise**xual guy, and a fake love storey between a homose**xual officer and a Kashmiri youngster.
When he applied to the defence ministry for a “no objection certificate,” he was turned down. “They said it was unlawful for me to represent the army member as gay,” the director told AFP.
Onir, on the other hand, noted that films in which officers fell in love with ladies were never refused. “Why is one’s se**xuality being used as a gauge for patriotism or ability to protect the nation?” he questioned.
“Everyone tends to become outraged over the most insignificant things, but what about the artists’ originality or sentiments?” he continued. Several of his films have dealt with LGBT issues, notably My Brother…Nikhil, which tells the tale of Indian swimming champion Dominic D’Souza, who was incarcerated in the 1980s after testing positive for HIV.
Although homose**xual intercourse was decriminalised in India by the Supreme Court in 2018, homose**xuality and adultery remain punishable offences under the Army Act, with prison sentences of up to ten years.
Last week, the country’s junior defence minister, Ajay Bhatt, confirmed to parliament that Onir’s film had been denied permission due to “the portrayal of a romantic relationship between an army soldier serving in Kashmir and a local boy, which casts the Indian army in a negative light and raises security concerns.”
He insisted that the pre-screening process was neither unconstitutional nor a violation of free speech, and that the government took into account factors such as national security, popular sentiment, and the image of the armed forces to ensure that the military “is not depicted in a manner that brings disrepute.”
I Am is a collection of four stories about same-se**x relationships as well as other taboo topics like sperm donation and child abuse. It won the best Hindi film award at the 2012 National Film Awards, India’s equivalent of the Academy Awards.