Cleaving to much appreciation accredited to his short film “Bhram: Delusion”, Manoj Sunanda Thorat is an LGBTQ rights activist and a novice short-filmmaker from Pune. Presenting his out of the ordinary approach towards the issue of homophobia, casteism in India and casteism within the LGBTQ community, this androgynous young man has nailed the issue of caste based discrimination in all sections of society in India, in a commendable way.
Manoj Thorat feels proud to embrace Sunanda as his middle name, which is a combination of first name of his mother Mrs. Nanda Thorat and his father Mr. Suresh Thorat.
Born and raised in one of the slum regions of Pune, Manoj Sunanda Thorat hails from a lower middle class family and is certainly not one born with a silver spoon in their mouth. With his first short film being acknowledged and acclaimed at several national and international film festivals, there are certainly many interesting facts worth knowing about him. “Slums have always intrigued me a lot. I love watching thousands of untold stories going around and which is why I still love frequenting the slums of Pune”, says the amateur filmmaker.
Having attended a typical Brahmin Marathi school and belonging to the scheduled caste community, Manoj has gone through egregious caste based discrimination since his very childhood. “It was only when I started attending college to pursue my B. Com that I witnessed the absence of casteism around me”. However, it was also the time that he came to terms with his sexuality. “At that time, I did not feel comfortable coming out to my family”.
Once he realised that he was androgynous, he started attending LGBTQ events and pride parades. “These prides are a way of showing our existence to the world and celebrating this very existence for ourselves. They are also a great way of spreading awareness about the LGBTQ community amongst people who witness these prides.” By the time, he wanted to share the truth of his sexuality with his parents, he was already quite famous within the community and amidst the media. He had also been featured on television and in newspapers a few times. “I was just hoping that my parents see my pictures in newspapers soon so that it becomes easy for me to come out to them. Finally, it happened a year ago. They questioned me as to why I was attending these events when I am not a transgender. That is when I told them that I am gay. Thankfully, they accepted my sexuality with an open heart but warned me not to go very social about ‘it’, so that it doesn’t adversely affect their social life They just wanted me to be financially settled and happy in whichever way I can be.”
After completing his degree, Manoj started working in a B.P.O. company and had no plans of being a part of the film industry at that time.
Then how did the whole idea of creating such a revolutionary film occur to him? “I always loved watching short films. My passion for short films incited me to attend festivals featuring these films. I also attended some queer film festivals. The LGBTQ related movies showcased in these festivals were only based on issues related to coming out, suicides by queers or acceptance issues faced by them. There was no film that revealed the prevalent caste based discrimination within the community itself.” Having realised that this issue was completely untouched by all the filmmakers until that time, he decided to make a short film based on casteism in LGBTQ community.
Manoj attended a 4-day filmmaking workshop, conducted by national award winning Marathi film director- Umesh Kulkarni. He wanted his film to be played at Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and did not have much time left, as the entries were about to close within a few weeks. After going through the script, Manoj had to face the real challenges. “Since it was a self-financed film, my budget was limited and that was the main impediment. I approached my friends who had been doing theatre and thankfully, they agreed to act in the film without charging any fee. Therefore, I had to only pay the cameramen, editor and other crew members. In order to reduce further costs, we used my best friend ZameerKamble’s house as the shooting location and finally scheduled the shooting for the forthcoming weekend. We had to wrap up in the entire project in those two days at any cost because Sushama ji had no dates available after that. The night before the shoot was about to kick off, I was still confused about the climax. That was when Zameer acted as my mentor and again extended his helping hand.”
Sharing another memorable experience from the shooting of his short film Brahm: Delusion, Manoj said, “As we were about to shoot the climax, the power went off. However, as the shooting could not be held up. I was worried sick, but then my cameraman suggested that we shoot the scene in candlelight. I am grateful to him for his witty advice for the powerful impact it brought to my film.”
Despite all the obstacles, the film shoot concluded in a timely manner and received an overwhelming response at Kashish and many other film festivals, both in India and abroad. People from other countries who watched the film were surprised with the fact that casteism still prevails in India. Its existence within the LGBTQ community was even more distressing.
After completing Bhram, Manoj further followed his passion for short films. He assisted his best friend cum mentor ZameerKamble in directing ‘The Closet’ and acted in one of his films named ‘Sannata: An Absence of a Sound’.
On being asked about his future, Manoj revealed that first of all, he wants to land himself a good job in 2017. “Then I will set out to satiate my wanderlust. I love to travel to new places, meet people, and explore different cultures and stories around them. And yes! I am working on the script of another short film which is expected to come up by the end of 2017. It will have sub-plots of 5 stories coming together. However, finances are a roadblock.”
In his concluding remarks, Manoj said, “LGBTQ is not an easy thing to understand. People are very apprehensive about us. However, at the same time, they are curious too. Society needs to be educated so that it can accept us in a better way. We do not need to walk through the streets of different cities to show that we exist. We can do that in a more effortless way in our daily lives. People should learn to live and let everyone live with love”.