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Slumdog vs. Milk -- The Identity Crisis

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On Oscar night some of us had the big dilemma. The Indians were rooting for Slumdog Millionaire. The gays were rooting for Milk. Where did that leave the gay Indians?

A tie maybe? Could that be the best of both worlds?

Failing that, most of my unscientific sample seemed to lean towards Slumdog. Ethnicity was trumping sexuality.

Or perhaps the reasoning went that even if Brokeback Mountain hadn't made Best Film it had still broken some kind of barrier. Milk had come around in just a couple of years. But Gandhi was over a quarter of a century ago. No one wanted to wait around for another 25 years for another Indian-themed film to make as big a splash.

(OK OK I know it was made by a British director and its lead actor is British as well - just like Gandhi. But hey, we are working with the cards we are given).

But dammit, we said why do we always have to choose? Am I gay or am I Indian? Gay in the Castro in San Francisco, Indian at the Diwali potluck. It's like an outfit we take on and off, to suit the occasion. In the diaspora, desperate to not lose a foothold in either world, we've all played this "check your identity at the door" game. Now even at the Academy Awards we were given that impossible choice.

In the end Slumdog won Best Picture, and Sean Penn won Best Actor. The Indian gays got to cheer for both. When Dustin Lance Black won Best Original Screenplay for Milk and Simon Beaufoy won Best Adapted Screenplay for Slumdog, it was as if both scripts of our lives had finally been recognized. Not for the same film, true. But at least on the same night.

I changed my Facebook status to "Sandip is happy the gays won AND the Indians won."

That elation was shortlived.

Later that day I heard when the ceremony was re-telecast in India on Monday evening on television channels like Star, Dustin Lance Black and Sean Penn's speeches mysteriously disappeared.

Is a television channel afraid of a young Mormon screenwriter's choked heartfelt words to young gays and lesbians " You are beautiful wonderful creatures of value and very soon I promise you, you will have equal rights"? Or maybe they were really terrified of the applause that followed.

This revolution, apparently, will not be telecast. But change is happening, even if you trim it out of telecast.

In neighboring Nepal, the Supreme Court has directed the government to study the feasibility of same sex marriage.

In India itself the British-era sodomy law might get thrown out by the Delhi High Court this year. Almost every leading intellectual, every mainstream media have called for that law to bite the dust in an open letter to the government.

Milk too is releasing in India. It's a limited engagement, in select theaters, just four or five prints in Mumbai. The distributors say they respect the content of the film but it's not a crowd-puller.

Well, the gay Indians want to prove them wrong. They are using an email and SMS campaign asking friends, neighbors, relatives, anyone who cares to "flood" the theaters. Operation Flood takes its name from India's dairy revolution of the 1970s that encouraged Indians to buy milk products.

The Oscar telecast might have been de-gayed but that doesn't mean the Indian gays and their allies are going to vanish as well. The Slumdog has had its day. But Milk, it still apparently does a movement good.