Sonali Gulati did her grad work at Temple University and returned to Philly this week to present her inspiring and beautifully filmed documentary I Am. She received a standing ovation as she walked down the aisle after the screening. Most of the audience stayed for the Q&A. Since April she has toured 42 festivals around the world and has picked up awards. Here is part of my interview with Sonali when she was at her home base in Richmond, Va.
“My reason for making the film first was that I hadn’t come out to my mother and it was unfinished business for me.” Gulati said in a phone interview from Virginia last week. when she talked to Edge about why she had to make the film.
“We were very close. I thought a lot about how she would have reacted. And I had the feelings of regret not coming out to her. “She said, adding that she is still conflicted about it. “But also with a sense of relief that had I come out we would have probably had problems over it.”
Gulati teaches filmmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University and has previously won awards for her short films. I Am is her first full-length documentary and has won prizes at the Kashish Film Festival and IFFLA.
“I Am” also delves into the lives of a cross-section of Indian gay men and women and their relationships after coming out to their families and communities. Gulati is part of a new wave of documentary filmmakers who avoids the talking heads & cut and paste look the genre. Her cinematography is visually compelling and has a narrative aesthetic.
In addition to capturing gorgeous panoramas of New Dehli, Gulati was able to film many scenes of gay pride in an otherwise entrenched homophobic society.
“It’s very different from the West. We have pride marches like we do in the west, for instance, people who organize will provide masks for people to come out, but protect their identity.“
Gulati interviewed 21 people and pared it down to nine profiles for the film, including interviews with Prince Manvendra Kumar Singh, who came out publicly rather than be forced by his parents into another failed pre-arranged marriage.
The filmmaker was fortunate enough to have been there when India struck down an archaic British law (section 377) that criminalized homosexuality. A relic from British colonialism, it remained on the books until 2009. “I just happened to be in India at the time. I got a phone call that morning saying ‘the judgment is going to be announced today, so be ready with your camera.’
“It’s a British law. When the rule was being fought, the conservative lawyers who wanted to keep the law said ‘Oh, There are no gay people in India, being gay and lesbian is a real western concept and the lawyers on the other side said ‘Are you kidding me, it’s the law that is western. Gay people have always been here and we have art, literature and history to prove it.” she said.
with I Am now she is part of GLBTQI history in India and the world.