The representation of the LGBTQI community in mass media and the entertainment industry has been minimal, to say the least. And when they are indeed portrayed it’s one loaded with stereotypes. In the past, Bollywood movies have tended to equate gay men to flamboyant, effeminate caricatures that hit on every man they pass, be it in Salman Khan’s posse in Pyaar Kiya to Darna Kya or almost every character ever played by Bobby Darling.
Lesbian characters have predominantly been less emotive and purely for titillating purposes, often catering to the heterosexual male audience, like the extreme focus on the physical in the film Girlfriend that lacked all emotionality of a couple - lesbian or not.
Nevertheless, as Bob Dylan puts it, the times are certainly a-changing, as there have been a few gems in the film industry that have stood out in their rational and realistic portrayal of the LGBTQI community with sensitivity and rationale. We now have films like Margarita with a Straw which addresses sex, sexuality, bisexuality and experimentation in the differently-abled community, a conversation that rarely gets acknowledged, as well as Kapoor & Sons that depicts the tumultuous relationship between a mother and her son once she learns of his ‘secret’ in a practical manner, with all its ups and downs.
These films address the real problems of everyday life, Section 377, struggles with identity and society, coming together to create three dimensional characters that are given a sense of ‘normality’ beyond the pigeonholing of gay characters. Today we look at some seminal films in the queer space that need to be seen, appreciated and celebrated.
[These are just a few names in a growing body of incredible films in the queer space and are in no order of preference. Let us know your favourites in the comment section.]
Hansal Mehta’s film follows the, unfortunately, true story of Ramchandra Siras, a professor of Marathi literature at the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University. Aligarh is a movie that needs to be seen for its nuanced, sensitive, yet realistic portrayal of a lonely man who refuses to be typecast with labels. When the professor was made the head of the Department of Modern Indian Languages, it’s suspected that jealousy drew colleagues to dig into his personal life, putting his private moments and sexuality on display in a horrid manner that lead to professor Siras’ suspension.
Manoj Bajpayee gives a stellar performance as the protagonist and the importance of the film lies in its subtle commentary about privacy and personal choice. It’s critical of the reinstitution of Section 377, the stark prejudice against homosexuals, and the importance of a democratic nation’s provision and upliftment of basic human rights in the face of persecution and humiliation.
Directed by Kaushik Ghosh, starring the incredible Rituparno Ghosh, Arekti Premer Golpa is a Bengali film that was the first film addressing homosexuality to be made following the decriminalisation of Section 377 in India.
The film follows Rituparno’s character, a documentary filmmaker who’s working on a documentary on the legendary female impersonator and jatra artist, Chapal Bhaduri, who plays himself on screen. The movie within the movie traces ‘Chapal Rani’s’ life while a parallel story runs regarding Rituparno’s relationship with his bisexual cinematographer lover, played by Indraneil Sengupta. The similarities between Chapal Rani’s life, which we see in flashbacks where a young Rani is played by Rituparno, and Rituparno’s character, both being in similar predicaments regarding love, life and identity.
This beautiful film is definitely a must-watch not just for the themes it touches upon, but the lingering question that it leaves you with regarding the true meaning of love, regardless of one’s sexual orientation.
We’re just going to start off by saying that it is this cult comedy film that the iconic I Am MumBhai song by Javed Jaffrey came from - if you don’t know it, it’s about time you do. Starring Naveen Andrews, Rahul Bose, Alexander Gifford and Naseeruddin Shah, the film follows traces the adventures of three young men of Indian origin travelling back to their homeland from the West, each for their own reasons.
Directed by Kaizad Gustad, in this films we see Alexander Giffords character, Xerxes Mistry, a Parsi, who comes to explore his sexuality in India after meeting his homosexual landlord, played by Roshan Seth. Now, how Xerxes’ discovery of his sexual orientation - we say discovery since it’s only after a brush with the law that his sexuality is more explained to him rather than him figuring it out finally himself - has to do with the larger theme of a transnational identity and its exploration in the Motherland, but regardless, we commend it’s representation in manner that doesn’t follow the overriding stereotypes of the film industry.
Another stellar creation by Rituparno Ghosh, the film borrows it’s title from Rabindranath Tagore’s seminal play modelled on the tale of Chitrangada from The Mahabharata. On the surface Chitrangada follows the desire of a gay couple to adopt a child, leading to one of them contemplating a sex reassignment surgery that would enable them to be considered a ‘normal’ couple. The film touches upon a lot of sensitive, grave and important aspects of not just the LGBTQ community but Indian society as a whole - it’s definitely a movie that needs to be seen.
There’s not much that can be said about Deepa Mehta’s groundbreaking film that hasn’t been said before. It was one of the first films addressing lesbian desire in a patriarchal male-serving society in the country, and although it has been argued that lesbianism in this film was less to do with sexual orientation and more a consequence of loneliness and isolation of two women, it is definitely going to remain a cult classic for years to come.
Based on the life of Dominic d’Souza, Onir’s film broke barriers for its time when it came to the conversation of HIV/AIDS and the LGBTQ community in India. Poignantly touching upon a very real phenomenon and it’s consequences in a close-minded society, My Brother Nikhil was made at a time when awareness of AIDS was at a real low point in the country, being brushed under the rug and behind closed doors. It deals with not just the stigma associated with the disease and homosexuality but the trauma that is lived by individuals not just in terms of dealing with it personally, but being pushed into isolation, specially for those individuals who are forced to deal with it in secret.
Saying Qissa is a good film would be a massive understatement. Directed by Anup Singh and starring powerhouse Irrfan Khan, Tisca Chopra and Tillotama Shome, this is by far one of our favourite films made in the last few years. A multi-layered film, we see the devastating effects of partition and a man’s deep-rooted desire for a male child unfold as it’s consequences cut deep into the life of Tillotama Shome’s character. This isn’t a typical film you’d find on a list of LGBTQ cinema, but breaching subjects such as partition, gender preference, gender identity, homosexuality and rigid patriarchy, it is one that deserves so much more recognition that it has received.
Set in rural Kerala, Sancharram is a coming of age story of two friends and their growing attraction for each other, one that throws them off as much as it draws them closer together. We see the two protagonists struggle in their own ways with their sexuality and sexual awakening, and the resultant societal reactions it invokes. We witness the very real family dynamics as the ‘secret’ is discovered and the unsympathetic treatment of our leading ladies as traditions and desire clash. Click here to read Kunjila Mascillamani’s lovely tribute to the film for The Ladies Finger.
Sisak is a poignant love story of two men in a homophobic country where their love is a criminal offence. India’s first silent LGBTQ short, Sisak is the story of two men as they meet in the Mumbai Local train over a period of many nights. Neither of them utters a sound but what conspires between them is a wordless romance that brings them closer with every passing night. Written and directed by Faraz Arif Ansari, it has been to a number of film festivals across the world.
Sudhanshu Saria’s debut feature film Loev starring Dhruv Ganesh and Shiv Pandit is the tale of two friends on a road trip to Mahabaleshwar where they are forced to confront their mutual attraction. By the time they get back from their holiday, the dynamics of their relationship have completely changed. The film explores the normality of homosexual relationships, and the path of love and longing that each one of us has to traverse, despite our sexual orientation. After touring the world and winning the Audience Award for Best Feature Film at the 2016 Tel Aviv International Film Festival, the film premiered on Netflix almost a year ago and can (fortunately) be viewed without the censor board’s shenanigans.
A film that can be branded as a queer and a family film, Evening Shadows delves into the intricacies of a mother-son relationship as the former struggles to deal with her son’s acceptance of his homosexuality. Set in Srirangapatna, it explores familial bonds that comprise a typical Indian household and the importance of community acceptance that invariably comes with it. Directed by Sridhar Rangayan, it is India’s first film to have received an all-age approved rating.
An independent Malayalam film that revolves around the experiences of Haris, a gay free-spirited painter, his love interest, Vishnu, a Hanuman bhakt from a conservative Hindu right-wing family, and Sia a feminist from a conservative Muslim family. A gripping tale exploring the taboo of homosexuality in a society rife with sociopolitical disturbances, Kabodyscapes never got to see the light of the day as it was denied certification by the CBFC in 2015. However, you can catch a glimpse of this masterpiece on the film’s official website.
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