Tag Archives: Asian LGBT

Best Animation Nominee at LSFF 2016


LSFF Laurel 2016

Little Elephant nominated for Best Animation at London Short Film Festival in the Best Animated Short Film category. A privilege and honour! Well done team: Kate Jessop, Carl Miller, Ernest Ignatius and Bharti Patel for making it possible!

Kate and I will be there for the New Shorts Animation Selection screening tomorrow – Sun 17 Jan, 6pm, ICA, Cinema 1. It will be a showcase of the best UK and international animated films submitted to the festival.



Little Elephant’s Indian Premier


DSIFF Transparent laurel (2)

We are utterly thrilled to be screening Little Elephant in the Indian capital on Sunday 1 November 2015, as part of 4th Delhi Shorts International Film Festival. It is now more important than ever to be presenting diverse sexual minorities in all its hues which makes us human. We would have loved to have been there, but next time hey! Wishing all a fantastic festival. Further info.



Gender bending, hijras and Macbeth


Kinnar Samaj – Becoming a Hijra

Tara Arts in association with Queen’s Hall Arts & Black Theatre Live present: Macbeth by William Shakespeare.  Post by Robert Beck.

“Bring forth men-children only” – Macbeth’s famous line to his wife in Act 1 Scene 7 who is so strong – so “manly” – that it is perceived she will only produce male children. The quote provides us with an interesting insight into Early Modern ideas about gender where “masculinity” and “femininity” seem to be more about behaviour than any particular sex characteristics.

For a play written in the 16th Century, its attitudes towards gender roles are pretty advanced, almost suggesting that our genders aren’t governed by what’s between our legs but is rather something we can choose and control through the way we dress and act.

These are the concepts directly influencing Jatinder Verma in his upcoming production set in a modern South Asian context with Robert Mountford (The Tempest, Silent Witness) taking on the role of Shakespeare’s most ruthlessly ambitious protagonist.

Jatinder Verma

“The play is full of gender”Verma tells me. His most interesting choice has been to cast the three witches as Hijras – a centuries-old strand of Indian society who identify as “third gender” and includes transsexuals, transgender, eunuchs and cross-dressers.

“I was drawn to this community as they have an ambivalent relationship to society. They exist both inside and outside.” In a world that has dug such deep trenches along gender and sexual fault lines, here we have a community of people who exist on a different gender plane and are, in many ways, perfectly cast as Shakespeare’s mystical, other-worldly beings.

Yet how does Verma and his cross-cultural take on Shakespearian tragedy intend to give a voice to this hidden community who, historically, are relegated to the realms of comic relief in literature and films?

“I can’t escape the comedy.” he says. What his production seems to be doing, however, is to not play the characters for laughs but rather to present them as they are, namely, a proud people who embrace the funny aspects of themselves while still dishing out a powerful punch when provoked.

“These characters have a sense of their own beauty and their own magnificence.” As opposed to presenting shallow and campy queens, Verma is empowering this marginalised group and showing them to be not just flamboyant clowns but rather a force to be reckoned with.

At the heart of this production is Verma’s fascination with the idea of different worlds and, central to this, the beings that inhabit them. As well as the Hijra, he views Macbeth as another variant on the migrant story.

“All migrants carry two worlds with them – the world they’re in and the world they’ve come from.” Essentially, Macbeth’s downfall is brought about because of his search for this other world. The witches remind him of magnificent Indians who ruled the world in a by-gone era and so begins his drive to become like these avaricious moguls.

Robert Mountford as Macbeth.

“We try and search for our roots but I think that the danger of this search is that it’s a try for total purity of culture which, in itself, is a road to evil because it’s a fundamentalist path.” When Macbeth succeeds in his search for the other world and acquires the crown, he is corrupted by power and becomes more and more dictatorial.

“The tragedy of Macbeth is that he wants to know more while sometimes it’s best not to.” Verma explains “There are mysteries hidden that can be terrifying if they are unfurled.”  A controversial viewpoint from the all-Asian theatre company and yet one that Verma has focused much of his work around in the past.

This production promises to be a colourful and lively offering with all the hallmarks of Verma’s previous work. Expect spectacular visuals and live music punctuating the text throughout.  Macbeth reminds us that Shakespeare can be found all over the world and not just in 16th Century England.

“This is as much my text as it is anyone else’s – I’ve just set the world differently.” Verma vehemently claims. Shakespeare’s enduring legacy is that his work is so adaptable and lends itself so beautifully to being reimagined for different contexts.

This production has set itself some very grand aspirations to live up to but, if it succeeds, it will no doubt provide audiences with a fresh way of looking at this classic text and will take us to new worlds that we may never have been to before.

Macbeth is the first production from Black Theatre Live, a pioneering consortium of eight regional theatres committed to increasing the amount of Black and Ethnic Minority theatre on the touring circuit. The show opens on February 25th in Hexham and will tour nationally until May 9th. More information and venue details can be found at:
Macbeth Tour.     

Written by guest blogger Robert Beck  (@robertjamesbeck)

Last Sunday’s radio interviews


Please excuse the brevity of this post. I’m racing out as we speak to a silent retreat.

Following on from The Love That Knows Much Shame, Harjit Sarang, Fiyaz Mughal and I had some radio interviews with BBC Radio channels across England on Sunday 25 May 2014.

I was on BBC Radio Nottingham on the Dhamaka programme with presenter Kaval Vaseer.

Starts 40:55 – 46:55. Available here for another four days from today.

Harjit was on BBC Radio Sheffield on Eastern Air with presenter Waheed Akhtar.

Starts 02:06:05 – 02:10:40. Available here for another four days.

Fiyaz was on BBC Radio Derby with presenter Satvinder Rana.

Starts 01:11:55 – 01:21:10. Available here for another four days.

And another from me on BBC Radio Stoke with presenter Ajmal Hussain.

Starts 01:06:45 – 01:16:30. Available here for another four days from today.

Another from Harjit on BBC Radio Manchester Indus programme with Talat-Farooq Awan.

Starts 01:12:55 – 01:16:45.  Available here for another four days.

And another from Fiyaz on BBC Radio Gloucestershire with Many Masih.

Starts 01:24:15 – 01:29:00. Available here for another four days.

And I’m afraid it was another from me on BBC Radio Northampton with Jona Kotnis.

Starts 01:38:10 – 01:46:46. Available here for another four days.

For Bolly lovers this interview’s preceded by  from Kabhi Khushi Kabhei Gham 01:31:40 – 01:37:30.


Rob’s take on The Love That Knows… panel discussion


So here we are again. It certainly feels like a while since I last wrote something for this blog and it’s a pleasure to be back. Many of you may remember me as the friendly face of Beneath the Surface which toured last September and is now in the process of being developed into a fully-fledged theatrical piece – but more about that in the coming months I’m sure…

What I’m actually here to write about is a discussion that I was lucky enough to observe at Southbank Centre as part of Alchemy festival which showcases and celebrates art and culture from South Asia. The event was called The Love That Knows Much Shame and was a panel discussion which fundamentally focused on the question “Can you be LGBTQ and South Asian or are the two mutually exclusive?” It was a chance to share experiences as well as a chance to discuss ways of creating a more progressive future.

Now I could go on for reams and reams about the panel and their various areas of expertise. Needless to say, the organiser of this event had managed to select an eclectic mix of people to talk about the issues and how they, both personally and within their organisations, are helping to forge new inroads into creating a world that is prejudice-free for members of the South Asian LGBTQ community and for the queer community generally. For the sake of being brief I will simply list them here with links to their websites. I implore you to check out the good work they are all doing and to see what you can do to help aid our fight to eradicate intolerance. The event was chaired by Razia Aziz. Panel members included Aashi Gahlot, Fiyaz Mughal, Harjit Sarang and, of course, Bobby Tiwana who organised the event and whose blog I am once again hi-jacking!

So what were the main points to come out of the discussion? For any of you who were following the event on Twitter then you may have seen some of the quotes I put up:






GAnd a hugely popular Tweet which caused a bit of a stir:


These Tweets might help you to get a flavour of what the event was like. Fundamentally, we were gathered there to make a statement that whether you’re Gay, Straight, White, Asian or any combination in between then you can help stamp out prejudice. I likened the event to the ACT UP meetings in New York in the ‘80s which, in their hay-day, were a hotbed of ideas for tackling the AIDS epidemic. Here we are, 30 years on, across the pond, gathering again to take action against another enemy; an older one and one that’s harder to beat – homophobia. While this event was part of Alchemy, thus technically a South Asian event, I looked around the room and saw such a mix of people that I knew this topic had struck a chord with many people from outside the South Asian community as well.

We all know what it’s like to suffer prejudice at the hands of someone who is supposed to love us; we all know what rejection and intolerance feels like. Yet for many of us in the UK, we have the freedom to live our lives how we want. Especially in the cosmopolitan city centres, identifying as LGBTQ is not something we are scared to do anymore. However, for many others, coming out as LGBTQ is still a battle where the people they are fighting are their own families and friends. There were some truly touching stories shared at this event and some truly horrifying ones too – families disowning children for years and years for the meagre “crime” of loving someone of the same sex. What I found truly heartening was the number of people, from all nationalities, who turned out to support those who still find it hard to be accepted for the people they are.

Looking at the issue from a South Asian perspective though, for many people it does seem that you can identify as LGBTQ and South Asian. There are spaces between the two terms and navigating them can be hard. We touched upon the fact that “coming out” is quite a Western concept and one that does not gel well with the many highly private families in South Asian cultures – “OK so you’re gay but keep quiet about it and don’t let the neighbours know.” Similarly, it can sometimes be quite hard to know which is the best way to go about seeking acceptance – does one do it quietly by just living their life and hoping their visibility will eventually breed acceptance, or do we stand up and politicize ourselves and fight tooth and nail for our rights? We heard from people who argued for both cases and, while no agreement was made, it opened up a debate that needs to be had. How, as a collective, are we going to fight intolerance?

Of course, the issue with these sorts of discussions is that we are only ever able to scratch the surface of the problem, let alone find solutions. Maybe if there were another event like this we could pick up from where we left off and get in deeper? I know I will certainly be on the lookout for similar talks to this one. Ultimately though, the main benefit of an event such as this is that it brings people together. After an event like The Love That Knows Much Shame people don’t feel so alone – “there are others out there who want the same things as I do.” You get a chance to network, take phone numbers, organise meetings. This event was merely the starting point for people to break into smaller groups and carry on the fight in their individual communities. “Activism starts at home” as one of our panel said – let’s hope that this wonderful event has inspired people to go and make that statement true!

Also do check out Harjit Sarang’s pioneering Equal Marriage campaign.

Robert Beck got involved with Bobby’s work after one of his very dear friends was interviewed as part of the research for ‘Beneath the Surface’. Since then he has worked as a Researcher for Bobby, Social Media Adviser, Production Assistant and Guest Blogger. The work means a lot to him and he hopes to stay involved for as long as possible. He doesn’t have a website (although he probably should). Follow him on Twitter @robertjamesbeck 

Rob end week 1


So it’ll just be a quick one right now. Yesterday I was able to see each section rehearsed in its entirety and it was fabulous. We have re-worked the structure of the final section into something that everyone in the team is happy with and, I must say, it seems to work really well in both a rhythmic sense and also aesthetically. I hope the performers and the directors find it as gratifying as I do to watch.

Today is the last day or rehearsals. We have the writer, Carl Miller in to see the work that the team have put into the project and to offer his suggestions before the first event ON SATURDAY AT THE SOUTHBANK CENTRE! We’re starting with a full run and then moving on from there.

I did say it’d be a quick one – I want to save the best for last… I’ve absolutely loads of interesting stuff for you to read. Until the next time – stay fabulous!

Rob Beck

Rob blog four


I have loads to tell you about yesterday – if I’m honest I didn’t think I would but we’ve had an absolutely incredible day and covered a lot of ground. I’m not going to lie to you, readers, I’m absolutely exhausted! So where should I start? Well the whole thing is beginning to take shape in such a satisfying way. I am beginning to see how the finalised product is going to look. The shape of the various sections of the script are, at one and the same time, distinct from each other and yet manage to maintain a connection that gives the whole thing a IMG_5780continuity that I think will really come across to you, the audience. We also hit our first stumbling block today. The final section just seems to include too much material and needs to be re-worked. I feel very privileged to be able to work with the directors in suggesting ways that it could be re-imagined and I am looking forward to seeing how the finished article reflects this change in direction we have taken this section in. I love it, as a theatre maker, when you hit a part of the script that doesn’t present an easy answer because it forces you to soul-search and to look for a less obvious solution. It’s just like a puzzle that needs to be solved and when it is, it’s the most incredible rush in the world!

As always, the material we discussed today could form the basis of an entire dissertation. Something that I was incredibly struck by today was how the script deals with the idea that the actors we have playing the characters might not actually be LGB and yet we are asking them to embody characters that are. Do we ask an actor playing Richard III to be a murdering psychopath? Therefore, why do we find it such a point of contention to have straight actors playing LGB characters? I found myself thinking how, when I see a piece of queer theatre, IMG_5831my first thought is often about the actor’s sexuality even though it bears no real relevance to the story they are participating in telling. There is definitely an obsession with needing to know if they are gay/straight/something in-between! I had never properly considered this and yet now, when I next go and see a piece of theatre, I will try and remember that the actors are merely the story tellers of other people’s stories and not the people telling the actual story.

This piece is definitely going to make the audience work a bit. There is a real sense of avoiding sameness and trying to make each section of the script fresh and different. For each bit there is a sense of locational energy – either from the position of the performers on stage or from the way the audience are asked to watch the piece. Some bits might be performed in a traditional, head-on manner while others might be done behind or to the right/left hand side. Similarly, some bits might be done in the middle of a circle allowing the audience to observe the reactions of fellow spectators and to reflect on this as well. In summary, the presentation of each scene is as unpredictable as the material it covers.

A really busy day all in all – I found myself emotionally spent by the end. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a brilliant day but it has been a rollercoaster. My drive back in the rain (hasn’t it got very autumnal very quickly!) used up the last of my reserves and I am looking forward to crawling into bed and reflecting on a great day. I am looking forward to telling you more about tomorrow’s antics. Until the next time – stay fabulous.

Robert Beck graduated from Manchester University with a degree in Drama and English Literature. He has worked with performers such as Dickie Beau on ‘Lost in Trans’ at Contact, Manchester and Sheila Ghelani on ‘Rat, Rose, Bird’ at Z Arts, Hulme. He also works with The Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre. Follow him on Twitter @Rhubarb1992

The Last Outing


A really important piece of research is currently being undertaken exploring end of life experiences and care needs of older LGBT people led by Dr Kathryn Almack at the University of Nottingham, funded by Marie Curie Cancer Care Research Programme. The criteria for participation in The Last Outing. are: currently residing in UK; identifying as LGBT; aged 60 (or aged under 60 but have a partner or a person for whom they care who identifies as LGBT who is aged 60+). Please disseminate widely to relevant people and agencies. The project runs until August 2014.