In 2014 the Indian Supreme Court moved to expand legal recognition of transgender individuals as “third gender,” and in 2018 it officially decriminalized homosexuality. But social attitudes have not kept pace with these hard-fought legal recognitions. Mainstream Indian society retains strong homophobic, transphobic, and patriarchal currents, reinforced by Bollywood celebrities and cricketers with campaigns like “Be a MARD!” (“Be a Man!”). And even though the patriarchal values and the caste system – a combination Harjant Gill calls “Mardistan” or “Macholand” – benefit upper-caste men and maintain their dominance to the detriment of women and sexual minorities, many Indian men struggle with expectations for traditional masculine roles and constraints on who and how they love, marry, and build families.
Gill will use the Fellowship to create Tales from Macholand, a nine-part immersive virtual-reality series that explores masculinity in Indian society. Filmed across northern India, the 360-video will draw on a popular form of entertainment known as “chalchitra,” or bioscope-shows, dating back to India’s colonial period, when traveling showmen would bring hand-operated bioscopes—ancestors of today’s modern VR headsets—from village to village showing short films.
The series will chronicle the experiences of nine Indian men, women, and third-gender individuals of different caste and ethnic backgrounds who do not adhere to conventional gender roles and societal expectations. The immersive VR format, designed to foster experiential learning on mobile platforms, where Indian youth consume the majority of their media, will give audiences an opportunity to connect deeply with these stories on an interpersonal level. In collaboration with the Indian NGOs Men Against Violence and Abuse and The YP Foundation, Gill will use the series to engage Indian youth in conversations about how their lives are affected by gender, power, caste, and sexuality in Indian culture.