I am bored of my life being only about acceptance: Director Onir on his latest film Pine Cone

This Pride Month, National Film Award-winning director Onir discusses his latest film, Pine Cone which recently premiered at the prestigious BFI Flare London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival
Pine Cone is a semi-autobiographical film that celebrates queer love and desire, featuring one of the first queer actors in a leading role.
Pine Cone is a semi-autobiographical film that celebrates queer love and desire, featuring one of the first queer actors in a leading role.

Love. Desire. Romance. Heartache. These themes are widely explored in our everyday mainstream cinema, whether it be a mushy love story or a hilarious rom-com. But when it comes to queer representation, most stories are so caught up in the idea of acceptance and the struggle that goes with it, showing the more simple joys and conflicts of everyday life escaping the visual narrative.

Trying to give a chance to gay love on the big screen, national award-winning director Onir talks of his latest film Pine Cone. This is a semi-autobiographical film that celebrates queer love and desire, featuring one of the first queer actors in a leading role.

“Most films about queer narratives focus on the heteronormative world accepting us,” says Onir, adding, “Our lives extend far beyond that acceptance. I wanted to do a simple love story of a queer man spread over three decades.”

The film traces pivotal moments in Indian queer history, starting with the first gay pride parade in Kolkata in 1999, through the landmark 2009 Delhi High Court judgement, and culminating in the post-Section 377 era in 2019.

“It has reference to a few important historical moments of queer rights in India, but at the same time, the main story is that of love as an individual navigates through life and love in a society which is slowly changing, but is still a long way off,” says the independent director.

Pine Cone is deeply personal for Onir, conceived during a time of professional frustration. “I made Pine Cone at a time when a film that I was trying to make called We Are got banned by the Ministry of Defence. I was frustrated because it was a film based on a real story. There are many films based on hate that easily get through certification, but mine was about love and it was banned,” says Onir, adding that he is happy that it led to this movie which recently premiered at the prestigious BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival, the biggest LGBTIQ+ festival in Europe.

One of the unique aspects of Pine Cone is its technical execution – it was shot entirely on a phone. Discussing the acceptance of queer themes in Indian cinema, Onir reflects on his previous works, My Brother... Nikhil and I Am for which he was awarded the National Film Award in 2011. While both films were considered ahead of their time, he believes the audience needs to evolve. “There is a certain double standard in our society wherein people are also scared about accepting gay love thinking about what people will think of them. So the audiences need to understand that their sexuality should not be so fragile that watching a film threatens their identity,” he says, further adding that there is a tendency to fit queer identities within heteronormative frameworks. “While such films are also important, I feel very often, films try to fit us into ideas of family and society’s acceptance. It is okay if your identity is not celebrated by your family, then you make new families which are not biological – people who love you and respect your identity are what make home. As a filmmaker, I am bored of my life being only about acceptance.”

Despite being one of the flag bearers of Hindi queer cinema in the industry, he says that support is still lacking. “In 2005, I made My Brother... Nikhil independently, because it was considered ahead of its time but in 2024, the story just repeats...whatever I do is considered ahead of time and I don’t get the support that my industry should give me. That is the fact, that we are the world’s largest filmmaking country and, if say, that 10 per cent of our population is queer, we don’t even have 1 per cent representation in films,” he says.

Onir, however, remains undeterred. He is committed to pushing boundaries and telling stories that matter. His future projects include an anthology My Melbourne directed by him with Kabir Khan, Rima Das, and Imtiaz Ali as well as We Are, which he hopes to complete this year.

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The New Indian Express