A 2011 documentary follows the lives of three LGBT people living in Mumbai, India. Directed by Adele Tulli, the documentary, “Out in Mumbai” or “365 Without 377,” premiered during last June’s Frameline LGBT film festival and recently premiered on gay television network HereTV.
Tulli follows three members of the Mumbai LGBT community: Beena, a lesbian musician; Pallav, a gay activist; and Abheena, a hijra (transgender) dancer. The film follows these distinct stories during the 2010 celebration of India’s one-year anniversary since the decriminalization of homosexuality.
Hindu’s religious traditions define no firm taboo against homosexuality. However, as British imperialism grew throughout India, a new penal code, section 377, was implemented in 1862. After 150 years, section 377 was finally repealed.
Tulli captures the stories of the protagonists as they share their journey to freedom. As a musician, Beena informs the viewer that she wants “to be acceptable here” while she refuses to move out of India. Pallav, a social activist, reveals he often felt suicidal when he was young. Abheena argues that hijiras like herself should not be restricted to begging and working as sex slaves.
Through the tales of these three characters, Tulli is able to explore what it means to be LGBT in India, from those who have experienced its changing political and social environment.
429Magazine: Why was there a change in the title for the television premiere from “365 Without 377” to “Out in Mumbai”?
Adele Tulli: It was the distributor’s idea. They felt that “365 Without 377” was not a commercial title for TV viewers. I still prefer it though because it was the slogan that the LGBT community from Mumbai used to celebrate the first anniversary without Section 377, the colonial law that criminalized homosexuality in the country.
429Mag: How did you narrow your documentary to the lives of these three characters?
Tulli: I like personal stories and the political power they can carry. The three characters were close friends of mine and for me having a strong connection with the ‘characters’ of the film is a prerogative. They also present a heterogeneous variety of experiences.
429Mag: What brought you to direct this documentary?
Tulli: My academic background is in South Asian studies and I have been traveling back and forth to India for the last 10 years. My research was always focused on social movements in contemporary India. Moreover, I am a feminist and a queer activist. Gender issues are topics I explore in my work.
When Section 377 was repealed in India the LGBT movement gained an unprecedented momentum of visibility and legitimacy. It was such a historic moment. I was living in Mumbai and the idea of the documentary came out spontaneously, out of the creative energy that was filling the air.
429Mag: Where are you from originally?
Tulli: I am from Italy and at the moment I live in the UK.
429Mag: When did you first get involved with filmmaking?
Tulli: “365 without 377” is actually my first documentary venture.
429Mag: What future projects are in store for you?
Tulli: I’m working on a new documentary project about aging women.
429Mag: Do you feel like this duality of supposed LGBT government protection and what is happening in the reality of these people’s lives is a common problembeyond India? And within India do you think there is real progress and change in these LGBT communities in relation to the rest of India?
Tulli: I think laws do not necessarily change the social norms and attitudes, but they can have an important impact on society. Of course the battle is not over as Pallav says in the film, but it has just began. Decriminalization gave legitimacy and confidence to a lot of people to come out and feel part of society for the first time.
Now the challenge is to change people’s minds, which may be even more difficult than changing the penal code. And I do think this is definitely a problem that LGBT communities face everywhere, not only in India, because mainstream societies are all still very heteronormative and patriarchal.
429Mag: What can be done to make real change?
Tulli: Keep fighting