Through Jeff’s Lens

Gay film

Jeff Roy

An American student is in India and filming various LGBT artists, Tanika Godbole finds out more

Jeff Roy, who is a PhD student in ethnomusicology at the University of California, Los Angeles, is currently in Mumbai studying the music and dance practices of the LGBTQ community in India. Jeff received Fulbright-mtvU Fellowship to stay in India for a year, in order to make a documentary film ‘Music in Liminal Spaces: Gendered Performance in India’s LGBTQ Communities’.

Jeff is one of the four grantees to have been selected for the year 2012 for the prestigious Fulbright-mtvU programme. The programme awards individuals with projects that explore the use of music as a base of mutual understanding between cultures. His project was given its stamp of approval by the pop stars Foster the People, B.o.B, J.Cole and Diplo, as well as the Presidentially-appointed J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.

He has been filming his current project for over four months now and has worked extensively with various LGBTQ artists from across the country. Roy filmed Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla, Gujarat- the first person of royal heritage to speak openly about his orientation. He has also interviewed Alisha Batth, a popular Indian singer/songwriter, who performed in the CokeStudio-MTV India concert series. Until July 2013, interviews and concerts will be posted on the Fulbright-mtvU website. The footage and edited videos will also be used in the development of a feature documentary at the end of his stay in India.

This isn’t Jeff’s first documentary. His first film, ‘Rites of Passage’, also known as ‘Mohammed to Maya’, received the Special Jury Award for Best Documentary at the 3rd Kashish – Mumbai International Queer Film Festival in 2012. The film received four more awards and appeared at fifty other film festivals around the globe. The feature-length version, ‘Mohammed to Maya’, premiered at the Montréal World Film Festival in August 2012, and continues to screen in competition at other international film festivals.

‘Mohammed To Maya’ traces the journey of Maya Jafer, a Muslim from Tamil Nadu, who traveled to Thailand for her sex-change operation. The film covered her entire physical transition from male to female, as well as her spiritual transition.

Jeff’s purpose for making the film was to show what Maya was feeling through her transition. “My goal was to forgo a conventional message of affirmation, in order to convey Maya’s journey with frankness and realism,” Roy explains. “I wanted to strengthen the emotional impact and to engage the audience with a narrative that builds empathy for Maya.”

With these two documentaries, Jeff demonstrates his commitment to open people’s eyes about the real issues that LGBTQ individuals face in India and around the world. “The beauty of the LGBTQ community is that it transcends national, ethnic, and, religious boundaries. We are all one family. This is what I try to communicate through my films. I want my work to serve as a bridge between cultures,” he adds.


For more information about the film Mohammed to Maya’, visit the film website:

Tanika Godbole