Growing up in a society that reveres its cinema highly has been a shaping experience. We all found ourselves sitting in those plush red seats, staring in absolute wonder at the big screen in front of us.
With a ‘life imitates art’ approach, cinema has always been a reflection of society and more often than not has mirrored its socio-cultural makeup, giving a platform to voices and stories that matter.
From books, to cinema and other forms of media that we consume, the stories we consume showcase all aspects of community and have always been about changing things.
Moving on from the boy meets girl trope, we’re witnessing a paradigm shift in the cinema we consume. The cry for representation in cinema hasn’t gone unheard as we find an increasing amount of cinema that does away with the binary and showcases LGBTQIA+ lives in a positive light.
Queer experiences are slowly finding apt representation in mainstream media as we see more lesbian, trans, or queer characters that aren’t limited to token characters but are central protagonists portrayed in a fair and realistic light.
With an abundance of powerful cinema capturing the essence of queer experiences, I have favourites that I stick by. Here are some of the most impactful web series and movies with strong LGBTQIA+ portrayals.
I. Daayra (1996)
Amol Parekar’s masterpiece Daayra challenges gender roles and cis-normative ideas of love as it captures a blossoming love story between a transvestite dance and a rape survivor who dresses like a man.
The award winning film stands to be an incredible piece of cinema even today. Based on the novel by Timeri N Murari, the movie offers an insightful lens on the harsh reality and experiences of queer individuals and features a stellar performance by the late Nirmal Pandey.
Portraying trans characters in a witty and humane light that doesn’t limit them to their differences, the trans character calls themselves a ‘Kudrat Ka Karishma’.
Using humour to address serious issues, the movie ends on a celebratory note that questions preconceived notions of love and gender stereotypes.
II. Paava Kadhaigal: Thangam (2020)
Thangam is a powerful film that tells the story of Saathar, a trans person hailing from a Muslim community attempting to help his childhood friend Thangam fulfil his dreams by putting himself at risk. When Thangam falls in love with Saathar’s sister, he tries to help them and ends up facing repercussions. The film represents the inhumane treatment of queer individuals in the 80s and portrays the struggles of a trans person. Thangam is part of a four-part anthology titled Paava Kadhaigal that revolves around themes of honor, caste, and complex relationships.
III. All About Section 377 (2016)
Amit Khanna’s web series is about Suresh, a homophobic man who travels to Mumbai from Delhi in hope of pursuing an acting career in the industry. He finds himself horrified at the thought of living with his gay cousin, Rohit and his live-in boyfriend. The series kicks off by delving into the perspective of a homophobic man living with a gay couple and takes a turn as the character unlearns hetero normative ideas about love and changes his perception. The overall theme of the show is about portraying queer lives in a contemporary setup and challenging notions of gender, society, and social status.
IV. Fire (1996)
Nearly 25 years ago, Deepa Mehtas’s Fire made its way to the big screen and proved to be a path-breaking film exploring homosexual love. The 1996 release caused a loud hue and cry in conservative society that led to Parliament debates, incidents of vandalism, and the busting of myths and taboos harbored by society. Considered to be one of the first films to portray queer love in mainstream cinema, the plot is about a middle-class Delhi neighborhood where two women struggling with marital infidelity fall in love and channel the outcomes of their relationship on family, society, and themselves. Since its release Fire has been showcased around the festival circuit and has won accolades in France, Canada, UK, and the US.
V. Aligarh (2015)
Aligarh is based on the true story of a Marathi professor and head of the classical Indian languages faculty, Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras’s shocking death. the film kicks off with a disturbing note when the professors’ house is invaded and his identity as a gay man is outed by some delinquents who film his personal life. A compelling narrative and convincing performances by Manoj Bajpayee as Siras and Rajkumar Rao as journalists are sure to keep you glued to the screen.
Director Hansal Mehta ropes in a stark disparity faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals in our society and the inhumane treatment meted out to them. Realistic framing, well-focused narratives, and sensitive picturisation strikes a chord and helps you better understand the plight of queer folks in Indian society.
VI. Made In Heaven(2019)
The Amazon original series directed by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, Made in Heaven is a 9-episode web series that follows the life of wedding planners - Tara Khanna and Karan Mehra. While Tara represents a middle-class woman trying to make her way through life, it’s the portrayal of Karan Mehra’s character that steals the show. A closeted gay man struggling with debts and identity issues, Karan doesn’t fit the bill of a stereotypical Indian gay man. We not only witness Karan’s identity unfolding during the show but are also able to better appreciate a rare multi-dimensional representation of a queer character on the big screen.
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