'Amen' — A gay rights activist’s life on 70mm

Friday, 24 February 2012 - 5:06pm IST | Place: Bangalore | Agency: dna

The story of Amen takes a page out of Harish Iyer, a well-known gay rights activist’s life. In a Q&A with After Hrs, he talks about the experience of watching his life on screen

Your life’s been brought to life on screen twice. Has the experience been cathartic or revelatory?
Onir’s I Am was based on Ganesh Nallari, a Hyderabad-based fashion designer, and my life. While I Am focused on child sexual abuse, Amen is closely representative of me. The characterisation of Harry, the way he walks and talks — it’s a lot like me. Watching your life on screen is a very different feeling. It feels good when people talk about it; but it’s really a lot of mixed feelings because you realise you are feeling happy about a story that’s dealing with something gory like child sexual abuse. And for every ten people who see the film and say ‘He is brave’, you meet 20 others who go, ‘He is showing off’. That said who doesn’t want to see their life on 70mm?

How did the film come about? Was it your idea or did the director’s approach you?
I had always had a dream to make a film that dwelt on the subject of child sexual abuse and the fear you carry on as an adult survivor of abuse. I knew Ranadeep and Judhajit and had told them that I’d probably see my story come alive on screen some day. So, one day, while we were discussing the story, they quietly suggested making the film themselves.

The movie has Karan Mehra playing you. Did you ever want to do the role yourself?
The initial idea had been for me to play Harry, which by the way is what my friends address me. I had even rehearsed the role for three months. I could do every scene in the movie well, except for this one forced sex scene and every time I would do it I would get panic attacks. It was almost like reliving it all over again. That’s when we decided to get someone else to do the part.

So, did you help Karan in preparing for the role?
The directors told me that Karan Mehra was going to play the role of Harry. I was glad he was doing it because I’d always liked him. I remember the first time I met Karan. We met at a coffee shop and he came across as very insensitive! He would ask me a question and just as suddenly change the topic. The reality hit me when I saw him acting. He was so real. During the shooting he would ask me to sit in front of him and after the scene he would look at me for approval. Karan and Jitin Gulati who plays my partner were both so grounded and professional. I think it takes a lot of nerves for two straight actors to take on such roles in an industry that is so stereotyped. I’ll say the whole Amen experience has been very transformational for me.

The film has been screened across the world and has been received well. Remember any poignant reactions?
I remember meeting this girl who came up to me and told me that she had been through a similar experience in her childhood. There was another girl who spoke of the sexual abuse she had to undergo with an elderly male member in her family. The thing with films like Amen is that it begins a dialogue to discuss such issues. A significant reaction I have noticed is, while earlier I’d receive four to five mails a day from people sharing their abuse, the mails doubled and trebled after Amen. Today, I receive a lot of emails, from India and across the globe, saying that the movie has made a difference in their lives.

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