From Deepa Mehta’s Fire to Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh; Indian cinema that portrayed the LGBTQ community over the years
When the word Indian cinema comes to our mind, the first thing that pops up in mind is ‘Bollywood’ and films showing the stories of romance, dance, songs, happily ever after, and whatnot. But, over the years, Indian cinema has evolved and there are filmmakers who had taken the less Road traveled by making some bolder choices. Bollywood movies on homosexuality like Fire, My Brother Nikhil, Aligarh, Margherita With A Straw, Kapoor And Sons, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan among others have portrayed homosexual characters on the screen be it in a humorous, satirical, or sensitive, and empathic way. No matter through what ways the LGBTQ + community is portrayed, but what matters is that this kind of sensitive and complex topic is touched by the writers and directors and served to the audiences. Criticism lies everywhere, but today, there is an acceptance to a certain degree and people to a certain extent have stopped looking at the portrayal of this community as taboo on-screen.
June is Pride Month and today, let’s see how our Indian cinema has portrayed the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community on-screen.
Here are some of my top picks of LGBTQ movies.
Talking about Fire, the film starred Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi. This brave move was made by the super talented Indo-Canadian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, to deal with same-sex love or homosexual love in mainstream cinema. Deepa explored the subject and it was much ahead of the time yet a pathbreaking film in the history of Indian cinema amidst so many controversies back then. The film was about the two sisters-in-law from a traditional household and how they fall in love with each other. I am still in awe of the cinematic brilliance of Fire.
My Brother Nikhil (2005)
Onir is also one such director who made films like My Brother Nikhil (2005) and I Am (2010). Onir very sensitively dealt with the bold issues. When it came to these kinds of taboo topics, the censor board always came as a barrier. My Brother Nikhil got certified as the makers had to put up a disclaimer that the story is fictitious, though the film was based on a real person. Then in 2010, came I Am. The film went on to win two National Awards — Best Hindi film and Best Lyrics.
Dedh Ishqiya (2014)
Exploring this conservative topic, Abhishek Chaubey paid tribute to Ismat Chughtayi’s Lihaaf by portraying a gay relationship between two women played by Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi. Unlike other films like Dostana and Bol Bachchan, Dedh Ishqiya was not over the top but it subtly represented the community.
Margarita With A Straw (2015)
Margarita, with a Straw by, was also a brave topic that dealt with subjects like cerebral palsy and bisexuality. Kalki Koechlin played a teenager Laila with cerebral palsy who happened to be in a wheelchair. When she moves to New York City with her mother, to study at New York University (NYU), she meets and falls for a blind Pakistani woman Khanum (Sayani Gupta) but she is also attracted to another man. It was a bold and beautiful attempt by Shonali Ghosh. In the movie, though there are differently-abled characters and you won’t feel sorry for them as they are written in such a way that you will feel motivated rather. It’s about discovering one’s bisexuality, how to tackle desire, it’s about success, heartbreaks and determination, and self-discovery.
This is one of my favourites. First, of course, the movie starred the super talented Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkummar Rao and the second is it has been directed by filmmaker Hansal Mehta. Aligarh is based on the true story of Ramchandra Siras, a gay professor at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). The film got embroiled in controversy and was banned in the city of Aligarh. Siras was suspended from the university when he was caught with a man in his living quarters on campus. Soo, there was a cacophony on the campus and it left people divided. While some were pro, some were anti-LGBT. A section of people wanted him to remove from his job. Manoj’s performance was deep and we really feel the pain of his character who was persecuted for his sexual orientation. Aligarh is a brilliant effort in terms of direction and storytelling.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga was a mainstream Bollywood LGBT movie that features stars like Sonam Kapoor Ahuja who played Sweety Chaudhary. Sweety keeps on rejecting all the matches that her family finds for her and eventually, they discover her sexual orientation. Sweety finds love in Kuhu (Regina Cassandra) . Though initially, it doesn’t go down well with her family, Sweety’s father (Anil Kapoor) realizes what his daughter wants. This mainstream film was made after the lifting of Section 377. While earlier, A-listers were skeptical to play this kind of role, actresses like Sonam Kapoor who has been always a supporter of the LGBTQ + community’s rights, coming forward to play the character is really applaud-worthy. Though the film failed to live up to the hype, yet was a starting point for moving forward towards a progressive mindset.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020)
Directors Hitesh Kewalya and Rohit Sharma tried to normalise gay relationships on the big screen. Instead of following the stereotypical way, they kept it light, comic, and happy. Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar were the main characters who were in a same-sex relationship. Khurrana did try to give a message and pull in the audience but to some extent, the movie succeeded in changing people’s mindsets that “it’s ok being gay”.
Over the years, things seemed to have changed, if not to a larger extent but yes, a little change is seen and all thanks to filmmakers like Hansal Mehta, Onir, Abhishek Chaubey, and others who had been through all odds, yet they chose to take the bold step in making the bravest moves by making films on the emotional complexities of LGBT community.