As the screen flashes “To those who have lived and loved,” it stands as a reminder of the question “why pride?”
As India celebrated one year of the decriminalisation of homosexuality under Section 377 on September 6, we look back at the period of the early 2010s when the Delhi High Court re-criminalised homosexuality under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
In The Mood For Love is a creation of Sandeep Kumar Singh and Aakriti Singh, revolving around self-reflection on love in India. The opening scene of Marine Drive – a conventionally hetero couple spot in the background, is led by the voiceover of a gay individual dealing with their landlord’s taunt of “ladki ghar nahi aani chahiye” (no women should come over) and a mother assuring her gay son that homoeopathy will cure his ‘disease.’
The re-criminalisation in 2013 took an uneven step back in the queer rights movement in India. Portrayed as a series of real-life individuals and their exploration of self-expression and love, the film not only stands as resistance to the homophobic “them vs. us” but also reminds us of their individual lives where their sexuality is just a part of them.
The narrative of a filmy love story escalates beyond genders. The innocence and dream-like emotions of Shabnam Shaikh and Asha Tiwari (a lesbian couple interviewed in the film) and their Bollywood-esque story reignites hope, the idea of love; it stands as a huge challenge to the media’s portrayal of only heterosexual couples being able to dream of their ideal love story.
However, the movie also points out what love stands for. Rishi Raj and Bijay’s (a gay couple interviewed in the film) narrative says, “Janta gives me the sex of it, not the love of it.” This was the most revolutionary and hard-hitting statement for me. They further add, a heterosexual couple can look into each other’s eyes in the cafe and hold hands in the park, whereas, just because they love someone of the same sex, it poses a barrier to their expressions of love. Legally, they are only entitled to sex. Where does the love go?
The movie raises pertinent questions and dialogues regarding the normalcy of homosexuality and the rampant heteronormativity plaguing the Indian audience. The flamboyant Bollywood depiction of homosexual individuals has always been a problematic narrative. What is needed is not OTT celebrations, but solidarity.
The idea of a movie is to evoke emotions and by the end of it, you might just look at your significant other and ponder upon the thought of someone imposing barriers on your love. Heterosexual couples have the choice to have a child or adopt, to live in or get married, to make love or not make love; whereas homosexual couples are barred from this choice. Who decides their idea of choice and taking away of rights on the basis of ‘who’ they fall in love with?
According to popular narratives, ‘their’ idea of love has been considered extraordinary, but it’s as ordinary as any other. All the individuals in the movie are individuals with successful careers, stories, backgrounds, histories and their sexuality isn’t screamed at or perceived as their only identity. Pradipta Ray, as a transgender professor and actor in Highway and Gangs of Wasseypur, makes a remarkable statement upon queer cinema: “majorly, it reflects the pain, agony, helplessness and victimisation of queer individuals, whereas, all they require is recognition.”
The movie deserves to be applauded for the way it has challenged heteronormativity. The question of who is the ‘husband’ or who is the ‘wife’ in a relationship points at our orthodoxy of believing a relationship consists of just these two roles. Even though people are somewhat accepting of homosexuality, it is often extended only to someone else, or maybe their children. Even though Rishi and Bijay’s families are accepting of their relationship, they refrain from inviting the two as a couple to social events.
The movie also raises the question of class. Most activists and upfront queer individuals belong to privileged middle-class with a good command over English and Hindi ( an example of North Indian hegemony), thus isolating regional and tribal experiences. They receive minimal to no representation.
What I particularly liked about the movie is the intermingling of sexuality and politics. Politics has always tried to appeal to the public with conventional notions to garner maximum outcome. In the 2012 JNUSU elections, there was a voice in Gourab Ghosh as JNU’s first homosexual candidate from the Students Federation of India. Even though allegations of playing identity politics were levelled, this representation was much required.
The movie provides a very holistic point of view of homosexuality from all walks of life. There were some instances which made you question normalcy and the rampant isolation and ostracisation of individuals for simply loving who they love. I believe, the filmmakers chose commoners only to point towards their existence as universal.
However, the movie leaves one questioning the idea of love and gender, which is crucial to help stir up conversations and discussions upon the same. We are still a long way to go to become a 100% queer-inclusive and supportive society. In The Mood For Love stands as a reminder that love is love and breaks all boundaries of gender and norms.
The movie is a must-watch to critically understand the ground reality of homosexuality in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Instead of bringing in any popular glamourised individual, the narratives of common people remind us that every person deserves love.
Closing down to the chants of azaadi (freedom) with rainbows and cheer, movies like this reinstate our hope in love.
Catch Sandeep Kumar Singh and Aakriti Singh’s film “Ek Inquilab Aur Aaya: Lucknow 1920-1949” from 11:45 am onwards on September 22 at the India International Centre. To see the full Open Frames Festival programme, click here.