Cary Sawhney - Cary-ing the big responsibility of equality and inclusion

  • Thu,14 Mar 2019 06:20:26 PM

British Asia News Network

Smita Sarkar

London: The London Indian Film Festival, LIFF, will be, for the very first time showcasing two Tamil films on LGBTQ issues in a positive and progressive narrative, confirmed Cary Sawhney, the Festival Director. 

"You could expect this kind of a genre coming out of Mumbai filmmakers, but the Southern states of India have been considered conservative in their film subjects; so I am both surprised and happy that they are leading the way. They are a handful now, but they are positive films, not tragic transsexual movies," confirmed Cary.  

Cary is a young, down-to-earth, sensitive yet bold filmmaker, an activist dealing with LGBT and equality issues for over two decades now. An out-gay man, Cary Sawhney won the "LGBT Champion of the Year" award at the British Asian Media Awards recently, for his brave and pioneering selections in bringing LGBT South Asian cinema into the mainstream. The award was presented by Lord Swraj Paul and Loknath Mishra, CEO, ICICI UK Plc, at the ceremony held at Kings College London. 

"It was moving to get an award on stage by a businessman," chuckles Cary. "But it was a new experience and felt good at many levels."

Cary receiving award from Lord Paul

Passionate and dead serious about the issue, Cary has been working around the equality of all people for over a decade now. "We were cutting ahead of the curve by mainstreaming LGBT films and it's really wonderful that mine and others work on diversity equality is being honoured, in an Asian community context. Through my film festivals  the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival and Brixton Reel Film Festival, I work around the equality of all people," he said. Through the team's work in profiling women's equality rights, mental wellbeing and LGBTQ+ rights through their film festivals is about doing the right thing and reflecting the audiences, showing films and having debates "that reflect our audience's interests and need for visibility."

In an exceptionally moving speech at BAM, he said: "of course being a Gay man of Indian origin - LGBTQ+ equality is part of my identity and lived journey and my own personal challenges, growth and pride in myself as a Gay man has made me both happy and fulfilled as a human being.

I wanted to share this award with all the people that contributed to this. People like Shivannanda Khan and the team of the world’s first Asian LGBTQ+ groups - Shakti. London, who alongside Trikone in San Fransico really kick-started South Asian LGBTQ+ rights. 

I remember and honour all the Queer Asian people that I have known. 

I remember the many young Asian women who were thrown out of their homes because their parents were disgraced they were Lesbian, or even as women, that they had expressed a sexual identity.

For the many Queer teenagers who through homophobia and bullying didn’t make it to 18. The constant struggle of brave Asian Transgender people to be, who they know, they truly are.

To all the parents of LGBTQ+ people who wake up in the night ashamed, blaming themselves, because nobody told them that Gay people are normal, just like lighter, or darker skin, just part of the great mixture of ingredients that make us all Human. 

And of course the many millions of LGBTQ+ people who dynamically contribute to the cultural and economic success and quality of our societies. I accept this award honouring all those people."

For Cary, it is important to be visible. "I realise that I am a role model for many in South Asia through the Social Media. I want the world to see me as a happy, successful man, leading a successful life and not as a victim. We have too many sad stories, we need more positive ones. Invisible minorities, like many LGBTQ+ people in the world, need to be visible, and we are doing it, and film is a fantastic medium to convey these community experiences.

"Having the guts to do something, helping others and giving back to the society is the kind of example we need to set for the world to see our community, people should not expect us to be ashamed or shameful."

In a great testament to the positive side to LGBTQ+ rights in South Asia, the Indian Supreme Court decriminalised gay sex, in a historic ruling last year, overturning a 157 year-old law, unanimously by a panel of five judges. While section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was rarely used for prosecution, it could not safeguard gay people from being harassed or threatened as the state considered their sexuality as illegal.  

Cary wholeheartedly welcomes this change, which he feels is a pioneering move for a South Asian country, where his roots are in. Cary believes in equality and inclusiveness and its this ethos that plays while planning his Film festivals.The beauty of the LIFF and the Festival Director is the selection of his films and the team. People from several nationalities form the core of his team and give the flavour that the festival stands for. The team consists of Italians, Spanish, French, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and also covers features, documentaries from all South Asian countries, and not just India. It is a platform for world cinema, in the true sense of the term. including films and filmmakers who have a South Asian connect from all parts of the world.

Cary with his LIFF team

The festival is all about "inclusivity and not exclusivity" concluded Cary. For him, its all about the common man, and with a great line-up at the upcoming LIFF in June, while celebrating its 10th Anniversary in style Cary will be getting in veteran filmmakers and recognising their contribution to the art of filmmaking along with budding young filmmakers.  

While LIFF has grown from pillar to post in the past 10 years, Cary continues to be a patron to other events and film festivals across the globe. He is closely associated with the BFI, where he started as the Head of Diversity and created UK's largest Asian festival, ImagineAsia. He continues to be the Programme Advisor to the annual BFI London Film Festival.

Cary dressed up to meet the Queen

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