In The Mood For Love: To Remind You Why Love Is Love In Post-377 India

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.

Featured image source: PSBT India/YouTube.
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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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