When You Have Lived A Life Of Exclusion, You Want To Fight For Inclusion: Filmmaker Faraz Arif Ansari

Faraz Arif Ansari
Sheer Qorma, Queer, nonbinary filmmaker Faraz Arif Ansari, will have a world premiere at the BAFTA Qualifying Frameline: San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival. Known as the largest queer film exhibition event in the world, the festival is scheduled from June 10 to June 27.

Ansari is known for their short silent film Sisak, a queer love story that won 59 international awards at various film festivals. Their latest film, Sheer Qorma stars Swara Bhaskar, Divya Dutt and Shabana Azmi and revolves around the relationship between a queer woman and a nonbinary person.

They describe Sheer Qorma as a film that is lovely and heartwarming but is also deeply political and social film. While it is packaged as a heartwarming film about acceptance and love, a mother and their child, and about two queer people, there are also additional layers that will only be discovered after watching the film.

In conversation with SheThePeopleTV, Faraz Arif Ansari speak about their films Sisak and Sheer Qorma, queer representation in Indian cinema and intersectionality.


Is there any narrative or trope you’re tired of seeing in mainstream media when it comes to queer represntation?

To be honest with you I think the biggest trope, it’s nothing to do with what comes on screen but actually what goes on behind the screen. These days most of the queer content in India has been created by cishet people. And I think that is a major issue because it lacks sensitivity, it lacks depth, it lacks representation, it lacks inclusion, and it lacks diversity.

It’s not an honest representation of the queer community. The warning with the queer content made in India should be “No queer people were involved in the making”. I think that is deeply problematic. What is also way more problematic is that these cishet people making this queer content are blissfully unaware of the fact that they are taking away opportunities from openly queer creators. By taking the spotlight and the mic away from them. This has been happening for decades now, the queer community continues to be pushed into the darkness and pushed into the corners and cishet people continue to take the spotlight.

Especially after 377, people want to see queer content in India even in the mainstream. Again, it’s the cishet people who get the mic and get the platform. That’s deeply upsetting. I don’t know what it is, whether it’s privilege or the fact that people don’t think queer people can go out and tell queer narratives.

My film Sisak became the first-ever Indian film to have won 59 international awards. So we have been constantly proving ourselves as queer creators that we know how to tell our stories. But are people really listening?

Queer content in India continues to come from a place of regression. It has all the tropes of people being partner snatchers, of people being psychopaths. It has the tropes of queer people being problematic stereotypes that are associated with the queer community. It really defeats the purpose. It’s the question I always ask people, “Is this really the ‘progressive’ queer content that you want to see?”

Sadly most of the people in the queer community applaud the content and say “There is nothing else with queer content that is coming out.”

I think our job as people from the queer community is to always question “is this good content?” Even if it’s not good content, is it the right content? Is it honest content? Does it have the right representation?

What pushed you to make Sheer Qorma?

Sheer Qorma

A still from Sheer Qorma.

A lot of people from within the queer community are deeply misogynistic. They are also deeply Islamaphobic. The fact that Sheer Qorma is about a queer woman and a nonbinary person, there are narratives that they don’t really want to support. They want to support cis gay men narratives, they want to celebrate that because in the LGBTQI spectrum it’s only the cis upper-class gay men who are really dominating narratives. Where are the lesbians? Where are the bisexual people? Where is the trans community? Where are the asexuals?

When you make a film as diverse as Sheer Qorma, where every protagonist in my film is either a woman of colour, a Muslim woman of colour or a nonbinary person, they don’t want to support it. All of the misogyny, all of the Islamaphobia, really comes up right at the forefront. They don’t want to support queer content that isn’t cis gay men centric.

How do you really tackle these things? I don’t really know but I’m just being honest to my craft as a filmmaker and really pushing for narratives that will probably never get made in India. I want this to be a part of my legacy, I don’t think we’ve ever made a film with queer Muslim people in India ever.

I come from a Muslim family and I feel I have never been represented in Indian cinema. How is that possible? For decades I have had zero representation and that got me to make Sheer Qorma.

What’s next for you as a filmmaker, after Sheer Qorma?

One of the feature films I am working on has a bisexual protagonist, so it’s really going to push the narrative further. It’s about the relationship between a bisexual man and a nonbinary person. It’s going to make people question gender identities and sexual identities in a different way. You’re really going to question things and observe the dynamics in a relationship in modern-day India between a bisexual man and a nonbinary person.

Another film that I’m putting together is actually a romance between a Muslim nonbinary person and a bisexual Hindu man, so it will probably be called ‘love jihad’ or something. I feel that anyone can love whoever they want to and I really want to push that narrative. So I’m waiting to see the response to that as it’s going to singe a few furs.

What do you think needs to be done in order to showcase true intersectionality?

I am making a movie on intersectionality, all my films are deeply intersectional whether I want them to be or not because my background is very intersectional. I have a family that follows every religion, celebrates every festivity, it’s by default that my heritage involves a culmination of many cultures and many religious backgrounds. By default every work I do, because it is so deeply honest and deeply personal it ends up being intersectional.

I feel that for me there is no other way other than intersectionality. If it is not opening up narratives that are also political, social, and also question stereotypes and break stereotypes. It should open up dialogues, not just with the queer community but with the folks outside the queer community. I think that is essential to understand.

It is a queer film that I’m making but is it going to translate to creating an audience base out of folk who don’t necessarily identify as part of the queer community and create allies. I feel that cinema has that power to transform. It changes the way we dress, the way we speak, the way we love, the way we emote, the way we hate. That’s how powerful cinema is, why are we not using it enough? Why are we not using it to bring in true change?

You have to push your work beyond the narrative that is expected.

What role has media played in your life in terms of queerness?

While growing up in the 90s in India, the only representation I saw of queer people in Indian cinema or in media was deeply problematic. It was all about reinstating stereotypes that are deeply problematic and that lead to people being bullied, people being harassed, people facing physical violence, people facing mental violence.

I wanted to undo that whenever I could, through my stories and through my cinema. Therefore I feel my work by default has become about busting these stereotypes and going away from these tropes. And leaning on a more universal understanding of what it really is to be a queer person. Therefore I think when I made Sisak, my first independent film, I decided for it to be absolutely silent. No dialogues at all.

That really forced people to lean closer into the characters and see beyond their gender and see beyond their sexuality. They really started seeing that here are two people, we don’t care about what their sexual identity or gender identity was. Here are two people who are falling in love over a period of time and are unable to do anything about it because of the world they live in. How heartbreaking is that? I think that is the reason Sisak won so many awards and resonated so deeply with people not just from the queer community, but from people outside the queer community. It talks about a universal emotion through queer characters.

Even Sheer Qorma is about Swara Bhaskar and Divya Dutta’s character and the fact that they’ve been partners for many years. But, Sheer Qorma is about a mother and their child. Something as universal as the relationship shared between a mother and their child. I take queer characters and I place them in these universal complexities. And when you place them in these universal complexities, it immediately becomes more than a queer film.

People need to come from a place of love to understand what it means to be queer, I think when they see us silently going about and living our lives and trying to go through the same emotions they probably have been through. That is what is going to bring a wave of acceptance outside the queer community.

What are some of the difficulties you faced while pitching Sheer Qorma?

People are very fearful, the minute they think a film will be ‘too political’. I don’t know what ‘too political’ is anyway, but I’ve heard these things thrown at me. “This is too political, this is too social, this is too gay, too queer, too flamboyant”.

Sheer Qorma will make you cry, smile, and love more, but it is also deeply political.

We’re struggling with tolerance, it is the bare minimum but we’re still struggling with that. I keep on struggling with representation within the queer community. Most of the queer community does not want to support my work because I am a Muslim, I identify as nonbinary, and they feel there is no place for me.

One of the criticisms I got for Sheer Qorma was “Why did you make them wear a hijab on the poster? Are you trying to exclude the rest of the community?”

I said “How is that exclusion? That’s inclusion?”

When you have lived a life of exclusion, you want to fight for inclusion.

What are your thoughts on queer representation in front of the camera and behind the camera?

I think representation behind the camera is extremely important, as important as representation in front of the camera. My first instinct to cast for a queer film is to always look for queer actors. The reason I started TransAction, the free acting workshop for the trans community was because I was desperately looking for a trans actor for one of my films, but I couldn’t find any to fit the role.

If you cannot find a trans actor, then get people from the trans community for behind the camera. Create employment for trans people behind the camera. Let those trans people be there to guide the actors play the character.

If a film or content is queer, then you need to have queer people behind the camera so they can say “This is not how it works. This is not me, this is not my representation. You’re wrong.”

Or just let queer people make queer stories, we’re very talented and can do anything a cishet person can do.

In Sheer Qorma, 95 percent of my crew consisted of queer women. There is constant monitoring happening of every representation that will end up in the film. People are watching, people are guiding me and helping me.

Feature Image Credit: Faraz Arif Ansari