In a country where the people literally eat, drink and breathe movies, the effect or influence the silver screen has on its audience is undeniable. We have blamed the mainstream Indian films for many a social evil in the past, especially for treatment of women in a submissive and often derogatory manner; and also for normalising gender-roles, stalking and harassment and many such things.
The LGBT community is a topic of which a majority of the cinema-going Indians had no idea about, even a few years back. It was not something we discussed openly, and definitely not something we would have felt comfortable to see on the big screen.
For ages, the Indian audience has seen homosexuals or transgenders being used as a comic relief. The movies showed them in a light of mockery, let alone giving the topic the normalcy and dignity it deserves.
But a form of art this huge cannot be all homogenous in its components. Just like these movies exist, such movies are also there which have the potential to bring about a positive change in the minds of the mass and break the societal paradigms.
Here are some Indian movies that got it right in showing LGBT characters and their stories.
- LAILA – MARGARITA WITH A STRAW (2015)
This indie film by Shonali Bose, starring actress and social-activist Kalki Koechlin not only revolves around a teenage bisexual who takes on a journey of self-discovery, but goes one step ahead and tells the story of a bisexual with cerebral palsy. It delicately deals with subjects like exploring and accepting oneself and one’s sexuality while struggling to do everyday activities; and the mutual effect it has on the protagonist Laila (Kalki), her mother and the people she loves.
A sad yet bold narrative, the movie did rounds of many international film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival.
- SITA AND RADHA – FIRE(1996)
Deepa Mehta’s Fire shows us two women Sita and Radha (Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi), sisters by law, being shunned by their husbands because of different reasons. Lonely and frustrated, they find love, solace and finally a partner in each other and manage to leave their old lives behind in the end. This movie is one of the first and very few movies that have explored lesbian relationships on the Indian silver screen.
- RAHUL KAPOOR – KAPOOR AND SONS (2016)
Kapoor and Sons is a full-fledged Bollywood family drama with an ensemble cast of beautiful people, lots of love and falling outs and two of the biggest production houses behind it. It cannot get any more stereotypical, except that during a reunion, the family finds out that the elder son of the family is gay. There is initial shock and subsequent denial.
But in the end, the movie shows us that we need no unnecessary humour or melodrama to portray homosexuality; and with the actor Fawad Khan’s extremely handsome and rugged features, it also breaks the long-existing myth that all gay men are by default effeminate.
- ABHIROOP SEN/CHAPAL BHADURI – AREKTI PREMER GOLPO (JUST ANOTHER LOVE STORY, 2010)
This Bengali language masterpiece, directed by National Award winning director Kaushik Ganguly has a dual plotline. The film casts another path-breaking movie director Rituparno Ghosh in the lead role of a transgender documentary filmmaker, Abhiroop Sen. He enacts the character of real-life legendary jatra-actor Chapal Bhaduri (also played by Ghosh) in his documentary on transgenders, who in his time was known for his portrayal of female roles on the stage at a time when women were not allowed to perform.
A film inside a film, it goes on drawing comparisons between the life of real Abhiroop and the actor he plays, as both of them had intimate relations with other men in their lives. With the same actors playing the corresponding characters of both the worlds, it brings a special edge to the whole narration which deftly deals with the mental and sexual trauma faced by a trans-man then and now.
What makes it even more special is that Ghosh himself in real life never identified to any binary gender and sexuality, and never shied away from being so openly for as long as he lived.
- KIRAN AND DELILAH – SANCHARRAM (THE JOURNEY, 2004)
Unlike most of the previous films in this list, The Journey, directed by Ligy J. Pullappally, is a Malayalam language film has a rural setting in the inner parts of Kerala. Two girls, Delilah (Shruthy Menon) and Kiran (Suhasini V. Nair), a Catholic and Hindu respectively, grow up as best friends sharing a relationship of mutual intimacy and love, which eventually blossoms into a romance like the most natural of progressions.
But their innocent emotions are threatened because of social restrictions when one’s family finds out about it; exactly like many other real-life homosexual couples in our country.