The charm of music videos is well-known. I remember sitting at home, during summer vacations, and patiently waiting for a music channel to play the video I was hoping for.
The charm of these videos isn’t, however, limited to nostalgic purposes. While newer videos in the Indian media have limited themselves to common stereotypes (misogyny and the like), there was a time when music videos were filled with endless possibilities.
Let us, for instance, go back to the ’90s and explore the unique way in which Falguni Pathak expressed queerness on screen. Her indie music videos included little hints at queerness, here and there… Not to mention her larger-than-life yet soft, gender non-conforming presence.
Later, she came to be known as one of the earliest queer icons in India, and rightfully so.
In the video of “Meri Chunar Udd Udd Jaye” (my stole is flying away), one sees a story unfolding in mysterious ways. It began with Ayesha Takia entering a castle-like house, which eventually cages her inside.
Along with a white rabbit, she carries with herself memories of the past. Here is when Falguni makes her entry, dancing with Ayesha in the hills. Why did they wear slippers on their hands and dance, remains a mystery to date.
But, Falguni’s unconventional way of going about things doesn’t fail to impress.
In my opinion, the song ends on a note which is open interpretation. Challenging the norms of a hetero-normative relationship, it gave Ayesha’s character the space to explore her emotions.
While one doesn’t know the exact nature of the relationship between Falguni and Ayesha’s characters, one could clearly see the scope for exploration.
One can make an educated guess. Towards the end, the man in the video becomes nothing but a spectator. Just like in many of her other music videos, the woman always has the agency to express herself.
These expressions might not be monumental, they might be everyday choices. But, the most important out of them is the urge to dream.
This is what Falguni offered to the audience so long ago: the freedom to dream, away from the binaries Indian media shoved down our throats.
Falguni never played a major role in her videos either—sometimes, all she would do was to offer her shoulder to a sulking woman. She always managed to make her presence felt though.
And, in the very act of being herself and defying ideas of what a woman is “supposed” to wear, she taught us the importance of being yourself no matter what.
In another hit song by her, “Chudi” (bangles), we see a group of young girls living together. They talk about all sorts of things including falling in love.
What was depicted might not have been radical, but what is remarkable about it is the way in which female relationships were shown.
Falguni let these friendships prosper, never stealing the show and yet, establishing her own presence in them. This is what I find remarkable and in a way, comforting.
As the ’90s were a difficult time to deviate from the norms of heteronormativity, be it any form. Falguni’s creativity in her music videos remains proof of her fearlessness.
Ever since her, we have hardly seen any queer representation in India’s mainstream, music industry. Even with the reading down of Section 377, there very little mainstream visibility of non-heteronormative identities coming from those identities.
Sure, there have been some movies like “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” of late. We saw the blooming of a gay romance in the film. However, the film had other problematic tropes including crass jokes about being gay, mocking disability, bragging about one’s caste etc.
It failed to capture the complexity of what it means to not conform (to heterosexuality) in a country like India. “Aligarh” is a good example of what sensitive, queer cinema can look like, but like most queer characters in the media, its protagonist dies by suicide in the end.
Coming back to the way music videos, apart from complementing the songs, help provide solace to its audience: there are many such videos, globally, which when watched by people, offer them immense freedom.
One can feel represented. Whether or not one is actually free, through the act of watching the people in the music video be themselves, one can feel lighter and freer.
One such video, “We Fell In Love In October” by the Norwegian artist Girl in Red, has a certain warmth to it. It shows two women in love in the fall (autumn) season. The colours used in the video slowly blend with the surroundings.
There is an acceptance that comes with the imagery… An acceptance that seeks the acceptance of nobody else, but the two people in love. The softness of their loves matches that of the month of October.
In fact, the music of Pakistan-born Ali Sethi also has queer themes. Although Ali has never verbalised his queerness, it shines through in his music videos.
His soulful songs, be it the recently released “Rung” or a relatively older one, “Chandni Raat”, celebrate various kinds of love through the music video.
The music video has the ability to offer a home to someone watching it, someone who doesn’t have that comfort in their real life.
The power that a visual can have over its audience is immense. A few minutes of comfort can help tackle many hours of struggle.
Note: The author is part of the Sept-Oct ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program.