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Indian Society Doesn’t Want Us To Watch These 19 Films About LGBTQ Lives

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Movies are a reflection of society. But there are movies which society doesn’t want you to see because it is feared that they may pollute your mind by endorsing the freedom to choose who you are, the freedom to love who you want, and most importantly, the freedom to live the way you want to.

There are many movies out there and you may well be annoyed with notifications asking you to watch ‘the 25 best movies’ of a year or century. However, rarely have I come across a post with an exclusive list of LGBTQIA+ centric movies.

So, to dig a little bit deeper into the cosmos of gender and sexuality, I’ve engaged myself in watching movies and reading books which address the issue in a manner that doesn’t demean the very purpose of the movement. After all, the movement intends to reveal the plight of queer people and how society deals with some of its people whose manner of loving doesn’t fit the social norm. The movement questions the majoritarian idea of ‘love’ which seems to be an assumption ending in the heteronormative social construct of a man marrying a woman and producing children. And the buck stops there!

Many a times, I have questioned myself why is it that only certain people, who identify as ‘gay’ or ‘queer’, have to ‘come out’ as themselves. Do heterosexual people need to identify themselves as ‘cisgender’ or ‘straight’? Why do these people have to wear these labels in order to be socially accepted? There’s discrimination everywhere and it has sunk so deep within us that we now consider this to be a normal or natural discourse.

It is not surprising that there are people who judge others by their mannerisms and form their conclusions on whether the person concerned is ‘gay’ or not. Similarly, there are parents who advise their children to ‘stay away from hijras’, or portray a scary image of a transgender person to keep their kids away from them.

It may be true that this is the type of ‘acceptance’ that people from the LGBTQIA+ community are receiving. However, what’s more disheartening is the fact that many parents disapprove of their children coming to terms with their sexualities.

I recall the first time when I learned about Oliver Sacks, I was very intrigued about the life he lived, and was deeply interested to read his autobiography, “On The Move: A Life”. While reading the book, I came across the section where Sacks’ mother comes to know of his homosexuality:

‘You are an abomination,’ she said. ‘I wish you had never been born.’

The fact that this is what Sacks’ mother said about her son’s sexuality shows that things haven’t changed much over the past five years.

It is my belief that movies can teach us a lot about LGBTQIA+ people and their movement. It is my humble request to the readers to please read through the entire article, which will detail different narratives, incidents and insights about people belonging to marginal sexualities (some real-life and others fictional), as portrayed in these movies.

1. Perfect Strangers

"Perfect Strangers" film poster
“Perfect Strangers” film poster

This is an Italian movie, which I watched at the Italian Embassy. The movie is about friends who decided to have a dinner, to raise a toast to their friendship. Amidst the casual conversations, an idea to play a game came up. Little did they know that this game would end up revealing their darkest secrets.

Peppe, one of the persons, happens to be gay. During the conversation, he learns how insensitive his friends are about him being gay. His response to this perfectly summarises why you should watch this movie:“It’s not me who has come out, today – it’s you people. What do you guys say? ‘Faggot’? ‘Fag’? No, don’t put it mildly like ‘Gay’. No, say it like you’re doing FAGGOT with a pronounced F and G. And no, I won’t introduce Lucio. I’d never do so, because when you love someone you protect them – you don’t hurt them, like you people do.”

2. Weekend

Even in the world of queer cinema, this is one of the rarest movies you’ll watch. A relationship develops between a lifeguard and an artist when they meet in a night club. The films talks volumes about the fears and insecurities of being in a relationship that doesn’t necessarily need to have to have a homosexual colour. As the artist rightly believes, it is not much different from a heterosexual relationship.

3. Those People

Charlie (a painter) and Sebastian are childhood friends. Each one stood for the other through thick and thin. However, Sebastian is an obsessed individual who is distraught when he learns that Charlie has a new boyfriend. This is a subtle emotional story that is depicted very honestly.

4. Brokeback Mountain

"Brokeback Mountain" film poster
“Brokeback Mountain” film poster

If there’s one movie which is credited with spearheading the movement in the cinematic world, and thereby, carving a niche in this genre, it is this one. In fact, the movie was nominated for most of the major film awards.

Directed by Ang Lee, this movie had Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in the leading roles. I saw this movie for the very first time at the American Centre in Kasturba Gandhi Marg, New Delhi, during the Celebrate Pride Film Festival.

However, during the movie screening, I was dismayed when I heard chuckles and laughter when Alma (Ennis’ wife) sees her husband kissing Jack. What was even more depressing was that some people roared with laughter.

I could not accept the fact that I was sitting in the midst of so-called ‘elite and sophisticated’ people, many of whom attend film festivals and talk with over-the-top-hand-gestures. However, that was not all. Globally, the movie was teased as a ‘gay cowboy love story’ – but as they say, any publicity is good publicity. The movie got visibility and was received very well by the critics.

5. Boys Don’t Cry

Based on real-life incidents in Brandon Teena’s life, the film featured some remarkable acting by Hillary Swank. The movie is the story of a trans man in the 1980s and early 1990s in Nebraska who had to face ‘extreme’ situations because of his sexual orientation. The movie talks in detail about the struggles of a person who identifies himself as different from his biological gender – and choosing to live with it. It is hard to watch such movies, indeed – not only do they make you cry, they also melt your heart!

6. Dallas Buyers Club

This movie should be watched for numerous reasons. Jared Leto’s portrayal of an HIV-infected trans woman should not be missed on any account!

7. Milk

The hullabaloo surrounding the new Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, shows just how difficult it is for us to imagine being governed by a homosexual Prime Minister. While Ireland has accepted it gracefully, in India, it would be a dream to have a Prime Minister who is supportive of the rights of the sexually marginalised – let alone having one who is homosexual, trans or queer!

This movie is based on the life of Harvey Milk, a politician, who was among the first openly-gay candidates to be elected to a public office (in California). His righteousness and gender-parity initiatives made him famous, before he was assassinated because of political rivalry. Starring Sean Penn in the title role, this movie is exemplary.

8. Blue Is The Warmest Colour

"Blue is the Warmest Colour" film poster
“Blue is the Warmest Colour” film poster

In my opinion, this is probably the boldest movie in the genre. It is also among the most famous, and you are likely to come across this movie easily while googling the genre. The movie also won the 2013 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, as did the lead actresses.

The movie explores Adele’s confused sexual identity and her relationship with a French artist she encounters.

Some Indian movies also deserve a mention here:

9. Onyo Opalla

This Bengali movie is an interesting tale of a new bride from a poor family, who is married off to the heir of a rich family which couldn’t find a match for their ward because of his effeminate behaviour. Her homosexual husband is attracted to the family priest. They had also consummated their relationship. The unexpected twist at the end of the film speaks volumes about the thoughtful plot and the narrative flow.

10. Margarita with a Straw

"Margarita with a Straw" film poster
“Margarita with a Straw” film poster

In this movie, Kalki Koechlin is the protagonist, who plays the role of a talented writer with cerebral palsy. Her performance was among the most acclaimed performances of that year. Her portrayal of Laila’s character is very honest, but her craft in expressing Laila’s sexual desires is simply remarkable.

In the course of the movie, Laila has intercourse with her boyfriend and girlfriend, as she is afraid of her self-doubting and judgemental mind. With this liberating experience, she is finally able to ‘discover herself’, when we see her dating herself at the end.

11. Fire

"Fire" film poster
“Fire” film poster

This film came out in 1996 – perhaps at a time the nation was least expecting it. Neither was it expected that we judgemental Indians would welcome such a story!

Not surprisingly, the first instalment of Deepa Mehta’s “Elements” trilogy faced severe protests – especially from the right-wing parties, which accused the movie of promoting lesbianism.

12. Aligarh

"Aligarh" film poster
“Aligarh” film poster

A website hailed this movie starring Manoj Bajpayee as ‘the debt they owe to “Fire”.’

When it was released in 2016, I watched this movie on the very first day. Only seven people turned up to watch the movie in one of the busiest malls in New Delhi. This is the fate that realistic films face in India – leave alone art-house and experimental films!

The story was already well-known. Five years ago, in 2010, Prof. Ramachandra Siras was suspended from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) because of his homosexual relationship with a rickshaw puller. He died a few days later, under mysterious circumstances. While some considered his death to be a suicide, others suspected foul play (as traces of poison were found in his stomach).

What all of this reveals is the fact that it is indeed difficult to be a professor of language in an university which shows signs of being chained to orthodoxy – where, as shown in the film, some professors have the license to barge into the home of a fellow professor and to malign his image with charges of homosexuality! Unreal, indeed!

13. Naanu Avanalla…Avalu

Sanchari Vijay bagged the National Award for Best Actor for his audacious portrayal of a trans woman in this film. The film shows the acute discrimination against and the struggles of the transgender community in India.

14. Unfreedom

This film is a crazy mix of Muslim fundamentalism, LGBT identity issues and obsession. This movie was banned in India for being an obvious rebel.

Non-feature films and short-films also need equal attention and are strongly recommended:

15. The LGBTQAlphabet

As educated and aware individuals, I think we should keep abreast with the various, newly-emerging ideas about gender, sexuality and sexual alignment. Therefore, this film finds the first mention, because it will make you learn the ABCD of the various sexual orientations you are not aware of.

16. Summer in My Veins

Nishit Saran, the director of this movie, died in a car accident. This movie is about him ‘coming out’ to his mother. Nishit recorded these events and made a documentary out of it.

The movie also films his graduation ceremony and his life as an activist at Harvard University. However, the clouds of uncertainty regarding his stay in his own country, where same-sex is criminalised, refuse to part. His thoughts on this issue are penned in this article.

17. Sisak

This short film is making a lot of noise for all the right reasons. Billed as the first silent LGBTQ movie from India, “Sisak” is the remarkable story of two individuals who take the same local train while going to their workplace, and express and communicate their attraction for each other.

18. Pink Triangle

Originally, the ‘pink triangle’ was a badge which the Nazis used to demarcate the prisoners who were convicted and sent to concentration camps because of their homosexuality.

The movie depicts the story of one such prisoner. It is a beautiful short film!

19. The Unsaid

This alluring movie is about the relationship of a gay man (who has ‘come out’), and a man who wants to be a trans woman, but strongly feels that he hasn’t ‘come out’. In the film, the decisions made by the latter starts changing the relationship between the two.

I hope that the readers will watch these movies with an open mind and then question the social construct which they are products of. After all, we need to question whether the choice of finding our partners (or not) is our own. Or is it a decision which society and parents will take on our behalf, without our consent?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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