By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON, June 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - LGBT characters should be given more screen time in Bollywood movies to help bring about a shift in cultural thinking, Indian actor Manoj Bajpayee said on the sidelines of a film festival in London aimed at championing diversity.
Bajpayee, who played a gay professor in 2016 drama "Aligarh", said public debate about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues was key to tackle taboos in India, where gay sex is still illegal.
"There is not enough portrayal or enough films on LGBT rights or LGBT issues in our industry," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.
However he said LGBT roles had become a more common sight in recent years.
"Earlier these topics were ignored or shoved under the carpet," he added.
India's top court reinstated a ban on gay sex in 2013, four years after an earlier ruling that effectively decriminalised it. It is set to reconsider the decision in July after a slew of petitions opposing the ban as unconstitutional.
Although the law is rarely enforced, activists say it is used to intimidate, harass and blackmail gay people.
"(It) is a sign of a healthy society if each and every citizen of our country is given the rights to live and live in the manner they want to live," Bajpayee said, adding he was hopeful the court would produce a "positive" ruling.
Bajpayee was in the British capital for the Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival (LIFF), which this year featured a selection of movies by female directors and three titles on LGBT issues - "Venus", "My Son is Gay" and "Bird Of Dusk".
"We want to show films that are original stories," said the festival's director Cary Sawhney. "Some of the greatest stories come from the margins not from the centre."
Laks Mann, the co-founder of Gaysians, a gay rights group, said it was important for members of the LGBT community in South Asia to see themselves represented in cinema.
"(People) can related to those stories and it helps bring down barriers, it helps stop some subjects being taboo, it opens up discussion," Mann said.
LIFF opened on Thursday with the world premiere of "Love Sonia", a gritty picture about the real-life story of a young Indian girl who gets trapped in the global sex trade.
Bajpayee, who starred in the movie alongside Demi Moore and "Slumdog Millionaire"'s Freida Pinto, described the film as "disturbing" and said he hoped it would raise awareness about the scourge of human trafficking.
"This is the most heinous crime which is taking place," he said. "All the world powers should really stick together and think about it seriously, it's high time."
Bajpayee also stars in psychological thriller "In the Shadows" that has its British premiere on Friday.
More than 40 million people globally are trapped in forced labour, forced marriages and sexual exploitation, the United Nations estimates, earning criminal networks illegal profits of $150 billion a year.
At least 18 million slaves are in India - trafficked into brothels, forced to work as manual labourers, or even born into servitude, the Walk Free Foundation, an Australian-based rights group, estimated in 2016.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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