Sonali Gulati opens her powerfully beautiful film I Am with a shot of herself sorting through old photographs. The photos show Gulati posing with her mother.
“They say there’s a story behind every image,” she narrates.
The first photograph is Gulati as a wide-eyed girl on a day she wanted to get her hair cut short but wasn’t allowed.
The camera spans a second photo, a mother and daughter moment captured in time, in this case her mother and grandmother. Gulati recalls that they had fought earlier that day. Ten days after the photo was taken her grandmother died.
“I didn’t quite understand the gravity of the situation,” she admits.
Lastly, a photo of a graduation day, Gulati in a cap and gown, her mother’s arms tightly wrapped around her. Gulati was angry with her mother for coming all the way from India, disrupting the last few days of university she wanted to share with friends.
“I also have no idea that this is going to be our last picture together,” she confesses.
I Am is a visual journey of the lesbian filmmaker’s return to India to confront the loss of her mother, whom she never came out to. It is also about picking up pieces after tragedy and loss.
“I didn’t get a chance to come out to my own mother before she passed away. I decided to go meet with parents of other LGBTQ Indians and explore what that experience was like,” Gulati says. “I hope that people see there’s nothing abnormal about being queer and there are families who love, cherish and sustain relationship regardless of sexuality.”
The film has been making its way through the festival circuit, from Vancouver’s Queer Film Festival to Tel Aviv’s International LGBT Film Festival. The Toronto premiere is at Ryerson University.
I Am is an affirmative statement about Gulati’s sexuality, a puzzle piece in her unfinished coming-out story. Gulati started working on the film in 2004 and completed it in 2011. In the process of making it, Gulati discovered a rampant medical industry thriving on selling cures for homosexuality. This has inspired her next film project.
“There are many parents who force their children to go through these experiences, and it’s a sheer waste of time, energy, money, not to mention the emotional toll it takes,” she says. “There exists this myth that LGBTQ people only exist in the West, and so it was important for me to show it’s not true.
“Queer people live in India and they don’t necessarily live closeted underground lives. I really wish there had been a resource for me when I was coming out. This film in some ways is a resource for those who are struggling to come out to their parents.”
Toronto’s Farzana Doctor, author of Six Metres of Pavement, will host the Toronto evening.
“I Am is an important film for so many reasons. It’s an intensely personal film about the filmmaker’s journey through her grief for her mother,” says Doctor. “It also explores the lives of many LGBT Indians and their families as the ways they find support and family.”
Musician and writer Vivek Shraya will also read from his collection God Loves Hair.
Toronto premiere of I am
Sponsored by Positive Space Ryerson University
Mon, Feb 13, 6:30pm
63 Gould St