Popular Hindi films that have helped normalise alternate sexualities
The Supreme Court today partially scrapped section 377 of the IPC and decriminalised same-sex relationships between consenting adults
Ramachandra Siras, played by Manoj Bajpayee in Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh, died on April 7, 2010 under mysterious circumstances. Traces of poison were found in his body and potential perpetrators were named in the crime, although the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. Mehta’s film, released in 2015, ended on a similar note: As the scandalized AMU professor lays down for his nightly sleep — all cramped up in a rented, cobwebbed apartment — he is alerted by the faintest of noises. “Kaun?” Siras says as he fumbles, getting up, before the screen fades to black.
Aligarh ends with a title card about the Supreme Court’s 2013 verdict which overturned the Delhi High Court’s decision to decriminalise homosexuality. Five years on, that judgement was finally nullified earlier today when a five-judge constitutional bench of the SC decriminalised consensual same-sex acts between consenting adults. Tracing the cultural landscape of India in the last five years, many artistic endeavors can be singled out as strong rebuttals against section 377. In the cinematic sphere — a medium painfully restricted by its popularity and moral economy — we have witnessed various sensitive examples have helped normalise alternate sexualities.
Besides Aligarh, which dealt with invasion of privacy and moral judgment, we had Shonali Bose’s Margarita with a Straw, a film that briskly tackled the complexities between disability and sexuality. In the film, Kalki Koechlin played a woman with cerebral palsy who discovers her bisexuality through a difficult phase of self-awakening. Similar themes were reflected in Karan Johar's short film in Bombay Talkies, in which Randeep Hooda's character finally came to terms with his own sexual identity.
In a more bright-sided offering, we also had Shakun Batra’s romantic drama Kapoor & Sons where one of the protagonists (played by Fawad Khan) comes out as gay to his mother. The film, although addressing the topic tangentially, captured the birds-and-bees attitude that plague families while addressing the sexuality of a member.
This year saw the release of Netflix's Sacred Games, a premium streaming series that featured the enigmatic and powerful transwoman character Cuckoo (Kubra Sait). Cuckoo and her relationship with protagonist Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) defined a welcome change in the portrayal of transgender people in Indian cinema.
Yet, perhaps the most evocative depiction of alternate sexuality was in Tanuj Bhramar’s directorial debut, Dear Dad (2016). In the slice-of-life film, Arvind Swami played a closeted gay father who, after discovering the strength for self-acceptance, finds acceptance and reconciliation in his family.
As jubilant celebrations flare up across the country following the historic SC ruling, it helps to reassess our prejudices in light of these films and reclaim our agency over our bodies.
The six shades of the rainbow flag, although recurring pigments in Indian cinema and culture, have finally come together as one.