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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
UK premiere for Indian drag film
By Neil Smith
BBC News Online

Ramesh Menon and Edwin Fernandes in The Pink Mirror
The Pink Mirror stars Ramesh Menon and Edwin Fernandes
A Hindi film about drag queens that has been denied a certificate by the Indian Censor Board receives its UK premiere on Thursday at the Manchester Commonwealth Institute.

The Pink Mirror (Gulabi Aaina) has been seen at more than 30 international film festivals but has been banned in India because of its homosexual content.

"The Censor Board has refused to give it a certificate - not even an adult certificate - because they consider it full of obscenity and vulgarity," director Sridhar Rangayan told BBC News Online.

The 40-minute short tells the story of two drag queens - Shabbo (Edwin Fernandes) and Bibbo (Ramesh Memon) - who battle with a westernised gay teenager for the affections of a handsome young man.

'Gay landscape'

The film is described as "an exploration of the Indian gay landscape and the tender bonds that exist between drag queens in India who form unique, non-patriarchal families".

It is not a 'Bollywood' film per se but uses many of the genre's cliches, including traditional song and dance routines.

Rangayan says the film has been banned because it deals with issues that the Censor Board finds uncomfortable.

Sridhar Rangayan
Rangayan hopes to make six more films about India's gay community
"I felt these characters were not portrayed at all in any cinema in India," he said.

"They needed to be given a voice without being ridiculed."

Cross-dressing is not an alien concept in the subcontinent. Women were not allowed to act in early Indian films so their roles were played by men.

Eunuchs, or 'hijras' - as they are known in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - have made numerous appearances on screen, and many of Bollywood's top stars - including Aamir Khan and Amitabh Bachchan - have appeared in drag, usually for comic effect.

But Rangayan says The Pink Mirror marks the first time drag queens have spoken in Hindi, India's national language.

"Usually our films show very westernised images of gay people, which is more acceptable to the censors," he explained.

"But in this film the characters speak in a language that is very Indian."

'Social acceptance'

The Pink Mirror also touches on the threat that HIV/AIDS poses to the country's gay community.

Rangayan believes things are slowly changing in his country. Mumbai recently hosted its first gay and lesbian film festival, and he hopes the censor will reconsider its decision on appeal.

"There's a little more visibility than what there used to be a decade ago, but it's still an uphill task to find social acceptance," he said.

"In India there's a contract of silence. If it's not visible, it's tolerated."

The director plans to make six more films about India's gay community under the collective title Rainbow Stories.

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