In 1996, “Fire” by Deepa Mehta stirred a hornet’s nest in India by showing two women, caught in patriarchal circumstances, falling in love and becoming intimate.
Many then considered homosexuality a “sin in the sight of God”. Female desire was also a subject little explored by Indian cinema. Some groups protested and stopped the screening. “Fire” sparked debates on lesbian rights.
The groundbreaking film recently ended its 25th anniversary. Has Indian cinema produced more innovative films about gay love? Not really.
Don’t make mistakes; there have been many unsung gems in the documentary, arthouse, parallels, and short films categories. Examples are “Randu Penkuttikal” in Malayalam, “The Pink Mirror” and “68 Pages” in Hindi, “My Son Is Gay” in Tamil, “Arketi Premer Golpo” and “Memories in March” in Bengali, and “Yours Emotionally” “. ‘ in English.
In the new millennium, Onir is hailed for bringing about a change in Hindi cinema. His ‘My Brother Nikhil’ (2005), with Sanjay Suri, Juhi Chawla and Purab Kohli, showed misconceptions about AIDS. A mature gay relationship was well balanced in the plot.
He backed this up with a short film in his anthology ‘I Am’ (2010), exposing the lack of respect for gays. Onir is making his sequel “We Are” and has often spoken of the reluctance of big stars to appear in same-sex relationship stories.
Through awareness campaigns, commercial filmmakers have partially explored the idea in ‘Page 3’, ‘Honeymoon Travels’, ‘Life In A Metro’, ‘Rules Pyar Ka Superhit Formula’ and ‘Mumbai Police’. Otherwise, full-fledged mainstream films about homosexuality have been scarce. “Margarita with a Straw” (2014), “Angry Indian Goddesses” (2015), “Aligarh” (2015), “Moothon” (2019) and “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” (2020) are among the handful of films that tried to explore same-sex relationships.
Proudly gay popular leader Priyank Sukanand says it’s been three years since homosexuality was decriminalized, and the community deserves more focused films.
“For example, ‘Kapoor And Sons’ (2016) did a lousy job. It only talked about the ‘coming out’ aspect. We expect filmmakers to highlight the journey of self-disclosure and I urge filmmakers to connect with crisis and intervention groups and hear their stories, ”said Priyank, who is also a co-founder of Queer Collective India.
‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ (2019) makes the same mistake of not capturing the inner journey of a lesbian woman. “Girlfriend” (2004) and “Dostana” (2008) have been criticized for an insensitive portrayal of homosexuals. The problem persists, Priyank believes.
“In one of the stories from the Netflix anthology ‘Paava Kadhaigal’, two women pose as a lesbian couple to get what they want. So the relationship is just a joke, ”he says.
Roopa Rao, whose widely acclaimed debut feature “Gantumoote” (2019) debuted with India’s first-ever web series about a lesbian love affair that has stayed away from stereotypes and queer coding . The web series “The Other Love Story”, which launched on YouTube in 2016, is a tender and straightforward relationship drama set in the late 90s. Shrouded in nostalgia, innocence and emotion, the series makes the genre irrelevant and keeps us invested in roller coaster history.
“I have traveled the world and witnessed such stories around me. When I was in the United States, I saw that same sex love was not a big deal. So in my head, it was completely normalized. So I went ahead and made a neighborhood love story based on that, ”she says.
There was a reason behind putting the film in a different era, she says. “I wanted to show the purity with which they are found. They were just acting on their feelings. Today, the Internet has changed the way people view life, ”she notes.
Filmmakers must strike a balance between entertainment and their cause, says queer filmmaker Shailaja Padindala. Her Kannada film ‘Naanu Ladies’, a lesbian love story, has done well on the festival circuit.
“If you take an experimental approach to homosexuality, the common public will have a hard time understanding. We have to make people think in a meaningful way, but also involve them in our films, ”she explains.
The entertaining ‘Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan’, with Ayushmann Khuranna and Jitendra Kumar, was a welcome change. “It was really refreshing to see two men kissing on screen. A pleasant surprise that it wasn’t edited by the censorship committee,” Priyank says.
Short films with gay stories like “Awe”, “Bombay Talkies” and “Ajeeb Daastans” have been well received in the online space. “OTT censorship rules are more flexible and suitable for independent filmmakers,” Shailaja says. Roopa examines an OTT space with the theory of supply and demand.
“Right now, streaming sites are looking at murder mysteries and thrillers because maybe that’s what the public wants. But we’ll get there soon, ”she said.