Monisha Ajgaonkar getting candid on being a queer-woman photographer during the 2000s in Mumbai and the making of her short film

Monisha Ajgaonkar, born and brought up in Mumbai, dealt with various challenges in her family life that revolved around her sexuality and acceptance by the family – a glimpse of which can be seen in a 3-minute documentary on her life named ‘I will also be married’.

As Monisha Ajgaonkar asks her father on a video call what he thinks of her being lesbian, he does not take a moment to mention that “giving birth to her was the biggest mistake of his life”. The scene displayed in her short film, ‘I will also be married’, was the hardest for her to shoot. She knew that the outcome of the conversation was going to be heartbreaking, and so did it happen followed by which she broke down in front of the camera.

A scene from the film, ‘I will also be married’ shows Monisha Ajgaonkar and her father.

Based on her own life, the film has received various international recognitions as the monthly winner category of Super Short Documentary at Berlin Flash Film Festival 2020, Winner in Honorable Mention For Best LGBTQ Short at Independent Shorts Awards at Los Angeles in 2020. Along with this, the short film was a Finalist at Prague International Monthly Film Festival and got premiered even in cities like Mumbai.

All of this was never a plan for Ajgaonkar, a long-time photographer, but during the quarantine of 2020, she came across the ‘MY RØDE REEL 2020’, a short film competition, and thought of being a part of the same. With an editor friend of hers, she worked on making a documentary on her own life. “I never wanted to portray myself as a sympathetic character, so I thought of displaying my urge to get married in the film,” the 33-year-old says.

Monisha Ajgaonkar

Not only do the initial scenes show Ajgaonkar saying how the birth of a girl is considered prosperous for the Maharashtrian families and how her birth is a matter of shame for her family, but she also repeats the same lines during the conversation over a telephone call. Stating it, she adds that the lack of family support led her to start working at a very young age.

Challenges as women and queer in the photography field

After dropping out of college, Ajgaonkar worked with several newspapers as a Page 3 photographer in her city, Mumbai. Her job included clicking Bollywood celebrities at the airports and various events, back in the 2000s – much before the time she could be called a “paparazzi”. Not only was Ajgaonkar new to her job, but so was the field of photography to women in Mumbai at that time.

The new entries to the field were although, welcomed but turned out to be hefty for women, of which Ajgaonkar was one of them. She would often face injustice by not receiving the credits for the pictures she clicked. Oftentimes, people would also touch her inappropriately. Despite this, Ajgaonkar felt that female photographers did not get respect for their work back in time. “The scenario has changed now with women taking various leads in the field but such was not the situation when I was working as a freelance photographer,” she laments.

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Things started changing with time for Ajgaonkar and once, she even cracked a deal of lakhs for being the first photographer to bring to light the house of B’Town actress Deepika Padukone. For more such events, Ajgaonkar started receiving acknowledgment from people and other photographers.

After working for leading newspapers, she also got the chance to work with a well-renowned Magazine, being one of her dreams. Gradually, she also got to work with corporate giants like Ogilvy for advertisement films. However, a time came when she decided she could not run behind people to photograph them and thought of starting her venture.

Initially, Ajgaonkar was part of a photography firm that was opened along with acquaintances and friends. But as soon as she felt that she was not getting enough credits, even after ensuring multiple clients, she quit the company and opened her wedding film firm in 2014 with the name ‘The Photo Diary’.

A wedding picture by The Photo Diary

What started with the desperation and taking revenge, turned out to be a profitable business for Ajgaonkar due to her strict principles and protocols governing the firm. In choosing wedding as a genre for her venture, she says that she had to choose the field that yields money.

While Ajgaonkar put her heart and soul into the business and kicked off with profiting, the inceptive days were not very pleasant for her. She would often have to lose clients because of her sexuality. Even though there could not be any valid reasons for doing so, most of her clients told her that they would not want a lesbian to shoot their wedding. “I lost many clients in the beginning, but I am glad that my work was always capable of giving them answers,” she says.

Representing the queerness with a lens

Belonging to the queer community and having experienced the challenges that come on the way of speaking out for themselves, Ajgaonkar has also been dedicated to portraying the feelings of the community. She received recognition from people even with her first LGBTQ+ shoot in 2014-15 called ‘Unmasked’, where a woman featured could be visible along with another person hidden inside her.

Back in 2019, she also did a coming-out photo series named ‘Blossom’ with the popular drag artist and an LGBTQIA+ activist Sushant Divgikar. It was hard for her to shoot around with a naked person for it being the way of representation, how it came out impressed many as she received positive feedback for it. While talking about the plans for more such shoots, Ajgaonkar hints at another LGBTQIA+ shoot in the ongoing month of June, popularly called Pride Month.

But what is she currently focusing on? It is to keep an eagle’s eye on money-spinning through the wedding photoshoots so that she can fly to Canada.

Also Read: LGBTQIA+ community at workplaces: What’s the current reality?

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