Until a few years ago, cinema relied on characters that perfectly fit the bill of ‘normal.’ Filmmakers religiously refrained from delving into topics or sketching characters which could not seamlessly merge into the mainstream. Be it sexual inclinations or gender tropes – cinema tended to be formulaic and a reflection of everything that did not cause eyebrows to be raised.
However, the winds of change have started blowing. With more and more people - especially the urban, dedicated, tech-savvy cinema goers - questioning norms and seeking greater inclusivity in all spheres of lives, more and more movies showing the unconventional are finding their way to the theatres. Here is a list of Indian films that have celebrated inclusivity in India.
Written and directed by Faraz Arif Ansari, starring Swara Bhasker, Divya Dutta and Shabana Azmi in lead roles Sheer Qorma is an ode to love and is hoping to give the message that love is beyond gender, race, religion, generation or sexuality. Though the film is yet to see its theatrical release, the posters and trailer of the film has create great anticipation around it.
Shabana Azmi (who plays the role of a distressed mother who can’t come to terms with the fact that her daughter identifies herself as non-binary) has been among the few actresses who have picked solid subjects such as representation of LGBTQ characters in Hindi cinema way back when it was considered ‘ahead of its time.’
Deepa Mehta’s Fire starring her and Nandita Das as two women who form an intimate relationship was one the firsts and shinning example of progressive cinema. The film shook the film scene back in 1996 with its bold subject, making Deepa Mehta, Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi as one of the firsts and few who had started the discussion around same-sex love through cinema.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan
Recently-released Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan is one of the first few mainstream Bollywood movies in which LGBTQ persons play the lead roles, without being relegated as mere objects of humour with stereotypical mannerisms. The kissing scenes between lovers Kartik (Ayushmann Khurrana) and Aman (Jitendra Kumar), especially the one where they kiss in full public view at a wedding, sends out the message that homosexuality needs to be celebrated.
The film relies on humour to dispel the most misconceptions about same-sex relationships – such as homosexuality being a disease that can be cured. But the humour never devolves into crassness and the relationship between the two men is portrayed with utmost dignity throughout the film. Their families’ reactions are also spun in a way that makes the audience perceive them as humans who view homosexuality with decades of societal conditioning, and not as regressive villains.
Kapoor & Sons
In 2016, Dharma Productions Kapoor & Sons pleasantly surprised everyone by giving the mainstream Bollywood lovers a lead character who was queer, and not caricatured.
What made Shakun Batra’s sweet and simple family drama a memorable film and first-of-its-kind, was that the sexual orientation of one of it’s lead characters was almost incidental to the plot. And the fact that it was made by the same production house that used homosexuality as comic relief and gags in their previous films (Dostana, Kal Ho Na Ho, Student of the Year) showed that the mainstream Bollywood is up for some real, mature and unapologetic content.
Ek Ladki ko Dekha to Aisa Laga
Shelly Chopra Dhar’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga is an attempt at making the audience change the way it looks at love. Sonam Kapoor plays the lead role of Sweety Chaudhary, a small-town girl who is in a lesbian relationship but decides to marry Sahil (Rajkummar Rao) for the sake of her father’s (Anil Kapoor) happiness and then changes her stance later, deciding to fight for her love.
The film traces her travails, her loneliness and the misery she faces owing to her sexual orientation. What makes the film even more important is that Sweety is from small-town India, where discourses about gender and sexuality are rare, making it even more difficult for people of the LGBTQ community to find acceptance.
Set in a small town, Manoj Bajpai and Rajkumar Rao starrer Aligarh tells the true story of Ramchandra Siras, a professor of Marathi and the head of the Classical Modern Indian Languages Faculty at the famed Aligarh Muslim University, who was suspended on grounds of morality. The film won wide critical acclaim for nuanced depiction of topics like sexuality, privacy and rights. Manoj Bajpai stellar performance (considered one of his career’s best works) as a gay man was the beating heart of the film!
Margarita with a Straw
Shonali Bose’s Margarita With a Straw is a courageous attempt to delve into the sexual psyche of a patient suffering from an incurable medical condition without being preachy. Laila’s (Kalki Koechlin) coming of age, following her complex relationship with Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a blind girl of Pakistani-Bangladeshi descent is treated with sensitivity and yet the seriousness of her condition (cerebral palsy) and the limitations it brings in her life are never underplayed. The film successfully deals with themes of inclusion, self acceptance and sexuality.
(Edited by Athira Nair)