PRIYAKANTA LAISHRAM was only 11 years old when he made his first short film on his Nokia phone. Now, 24, with several documentaries and short films under his belt, Ishram’s latest project will be Manipur’s first gay film. The trailer was released last week and the feature film “Oneness” will be released later this year.
Laishram, who himself came out as gay in 2019, says the film is based on the alleged honor killing of a gay young man in Manipur in 2013. He says he learned about the incident through the YouTube talk show he started in 2020 amid the first pandemic shutdown when he returned to Imphal from college in Chandigarh.
The talk show, “Up Close with Priyakanta Laishram,” raises many social issues, including those related to gender and the LGBTQ community.
“After listening to my presentation, the victim’s cousin contacted me. She told me that her brother, who belongs to a tribal group, had an affair with a Meitei boy. He was 18 years old while his friend from Meitei was 21 at the time. The victim over his sexuality when the couple was arrested in a hotel room during a police raid.While he had the support of his mother and sister, his father and older brother were very religious.
According to Lascherm, the boys were treated by their families. The victim’s cousin told Ashram that the boy had been subjected to an exorcism and immersed in water in an attempt to re-baptize him. Lashram says the victim kept a detailed account of what happened in a journal, which forms the basis of the film.
According to Lashram, the two lovers reached out to each other after several months. “The victim’s older brother, who was watching closely, followed him to an appointment. That night, after the victim came home, the brother mixed bleaching powder and ammonia into his milk. The boy died that night. No case was ever registered and it was considered a suicide,” he said.
“However, in tribal areas, tribal law prevails, so there is little the police can do in such cases,” Lishram said.
When Lisram first announced the movie, he said he received threats from the victim’s community. “I changed the character’s name, choosing Martin as his nickname… very carefully, after research, so as not to hurt the feelings of any community. Martin is not a commonly used name.
This wasn’t the first time Lishram had received threats because of his work. In 2018, the independent director released a short film on male sexuality and pedophilia. “I got threatening calls from four different rebel groups,” he said.
Manipur cinema is constrained by the dictates of rebel groups that act as moral police. In 2002, Meitei-centric Valley groups banned Hindi films in the state. Cinemas in Imphal are closed. Restrictions were imposed on Manipuri cinema: the main characters had to wear traditional clothes, the storylines had to be traditional, and the sequences of dreams and fantasies were forbidden.
“It’s not just movies, but even music videos,” said Mina Longam who won a national award for her movie “Autodriver” in 2015.
Lashram says it was very difficult. “I only spent eight months looking for an actor to play the lead role. Every actor said no because it was the role of a gay guy. Lisram, who wrote the movie, also produced and directed it, while I got an actor to play the boyfriend, I had to play the victim,” said Lishram, who wrote the movie. In the movie myself.
Having experienced bullying and discrimination in school and college in his home state as well as in other cities due to his sexual orientation and penchant for wearing make-up, Laichram says that it was through filmmaking that he began the process of accepting himself. “The Manipuri community does not understand homosexuality. That is why this movie is so important.