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

Posted by Saurabh Sharma in Cake, Culture-Vulture, LGBT+, LGBTQ
June 23, 2017

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?