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Raghuvir Joshi on Sahela: We need more colour queer stories

Mumbai-based writer-director Raghuvir Joshi picks Western Sydney to tell the deep love story between a gay man and his wife in his debut film Sahela

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Raghuvir Joshi’s Sahela, set in Western Sydney, is this week seeing a return to Australian shores. It premiered at the Adelaide Film Festival last year, and screened at SXWS Sydney and Mumbai Film Festival.

Inspired by his own story, Raghuvir captures the poignant journey of a second-generation Indian-Australian couple Vir and Nitya. While they are struggling under the weight of family expectations, their relationship is thrown into turmoil when Vir comes out to Nitya. Even as they each embark on a journey of transformation and discovering themselves, they continue to feel emotionally attached to each other.

Though Sahela is Raghuvir’s feature directorial debut, he has worked extensively on internationally acclaimed films. He was assistant director and dialect coach on films such as The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and Hotel Mumbai (2018).

Raghuvir Joshi
(Source: Supplied) With Michael McDermott- our DOP

So as a Mumbai-based director, what made him choose Parramatta, Western Sydney, to tell his story?

“I wanted to explore the Australian South Asian diaspora,” Raghuvir replied. “You see the queer UK and American based South Asian diaspora in international films but you never get to see the Australian South Asian based diaspora. The immigrant culture in Australia is  massive. Anyways it’s so hard to be a person of colour outside your origin of country, and then if you add your sexuality identification, the stakes rise high. This complexity added to Vir’s journey and has been depicted via the film.”

Talking about the origins of the project, Raghuvir shared, “Discovering my own sexuality after marriage became an important milestone that I had to explore through the medium of film. We started off with a short film called Yaman which was based in India but I always wanted to tell my story to an international audience. Yaman paved the way for Sahela. Soon, I was joined by writer Atika Chohan, Australian writers Jett Tattersall, Shakthi Shakthidharan and Australian producers Tayyab Madni and Dev Patel. That’s how Sahela travelled to Australia.”

Raghuvir Joshi
(Source: Supplied)

The entire film was shot in Sydney with lead actors Antonio Aakeel and Anula Navlekara, a mix of Indian actors (Sheeba Chaddha, Vipin Sharma and Harish Patel,) and Australian actors Nicholas Brown and Saba Zaidi Abdi.

Raghuvir is pleased to see that LGBTQ representation has started to make its mark in Indian films.

“In the past few years, the queer community is being represented with authenticity, with films like Badhai Do,” he observed. “The queer representation was so lovely and grounded in the film. We have gone through a transformative journey. It used to be that one flamboyant person who would be the butt of all jokes, and then there were commercial films like Dostana where the gay representation was there for comic relief. Now I don’t think we can get away with the queer being represented like an item number. Directors and producers are now aware of the representation, and we need more of it. We need more colour queer stories that reach an international audience.”

Through his work and others in the genre, he is proud that queer love is finally being seen as just love.

Raghu Joshi
(Source: Supplied) With Tayyab Madni, producer (PWA)

“At the end of the day, Sahela is a love story,” he smiled. “There is a familiar context – a father-son narrative, a mother-daughter narrative, and the nucleus is the love between the main leads. It’s far beyond a queer story, you can identify with something or the other. At each screening someone has approached me to confess that this is their story.”

The film has been screened at four festivals already.

“Yes, we have touched four different demographics, and I’m relieved to say we struck a chord at each. Sydney’s reaction, particularly, was very heartwarming, as that is the home of the film.”

He’s currently working on securing theatre release later this year, but in the meantime, he’s excited about being part of the Queer Screen Film Festival.

Sahela is being screened on Friday, 16 February, 7 pm at Event Cinemas, George St, Sydney.

READ MORE: Why are straight people still telling our stories?

Neeru Saluja
Neeru Saluja
Neeru Saluja is a freelance films and arts writer with 20 years of experience. Specialising in Bollywood celebrity interviews, she has also covered music concerts, comedy shows, plays and interviewed artists for the Sydney Film festival, the Indian Film festival in Melbourne, WOMADelaide, AACTA and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

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