Media is often considered the mirror that is reflective of the society, which means that it shows us—often with dramatic plot lines—the reality of the world. However, the truth is that sometimes mirrors lie. While Indian cinema has been hailed across the world for its bold choice of topics and intelligent script, the industry has often intentionally skirted away from one particular subject—the third gender.
While filmmakers across the world started acknowledging the existence alternate sexuality in the 1960s, it took a while for the effects to reach Indian cinema. For years, queer portrayals rarely found space in commercial ventures, because if the fear of being rejected by the audience. The most common representations of the third gender in Hindi cinema has been in the form of Hijras, as a humor tactic, or as a mentally sick character. Movies such as My Brother Nikhil that highlighted on the complexities of being a member of the LGBTQ community is what I would call an anomaly—an effort by a brave filmmaker to challenge the stereotypes, but one that did not succeed. However, that being said, we must also accept that over the years we have been able to move from movies that use flamboyant gay sidekicks that will buy cheap laughs to movies such as Aligarh and Angry Indian Goddesses that focus on the realities of homosexuality.
Regional movies are another ball game altogether. While the Bollywood we all hail is still struggling to choose between making intelligent movies and appeasing the audience, regional filmmakers made the choice long ago. When I was given this assignment, I thought with luck I would maybe find five movies that could make it to the list. However, I was surprised to find that the first released Indian movie that dealt with homosexuality dates back to 1978. Many of these movies were commercially acclaimed, as well. That must either mean that people were more tolerant and inclusive over four decades ago, or that filmmakers back then took their duty of educating the public rather than just provide for meaningless entertainment more seriously. Keeping the theme of the month in mind, we thought it would be great to share what we found. We have listed down some regional movies that have provided a positive representation of the queer community. I suggest that you get the popcorn and blankets ready for the weekend:
Desatanakkili Karayarilla [The Migratory Bird Never Cries] (1986)
Two young girls elope while on a school trip as a part of their plan to take revenge against their teacher who used to harass the two. The beauty of the movie lies in the fact that while the filmmaker leaves us enough clues for the audience, not once through the course of the movie is the nature of the relationship between the two blatantly expressed. The duo is befriended by a stranger towards whom one of them even develop feelings. While the movie does end on a tragic note, it still considered a huge milestone for the Malayalam movie industry for being one of the first movies to open dialogue about homosexual relationships.
Randu Penkuttikal [Two Girls] (1978)
While this Malayalam movie has predecessors, this is often remembered as the earliest attempts to address the theme of homosexuality in Indian cinema. Based on Malayalam novel by V.T. Nandakumar, the movie tells us the story of two women who fall in love. Do not be confused by the 2016 release with the same name!
Nil Nirjane [Vacation Blues] (2003)
Directed by Subrata Sen, Nil Nirjane is a Bengali movie that focuses on a lesbian relationship that blossom over a vacation. The story shows six individuals— Jaya and Aman (a couple), Mou and her widower father, and Reshmi and her unwed mother—who are vacationing in a resort on the outskirts of Kolkata. The story shows the troubles in the relationship between Jaya and Aman, and the romance developing between Mou and Reshmi. What makes the movie interesting is the fact that he is made it a point to explore various taboo topics such as premarital sex, single motherhood, and homosexuality, without cheapening it.
Sancharram [The Journey] (2004)
Inspired by her own short story and a true story of a lesbian couple, Ligy J. Pullappally wrote, directed, and produced the Malayalam movie Sancharram. The story follows the relationship between Kiran, a Hindu girl, and Delilah, a Catholic, who realize that their affections for each other are far deeper than that of a friendship. It is one of the few movies that has boldly explored a homosexual relationship. The duo’s decision to be a couple is destroyed by the societal and family pressures that places high value on heterosexuality.
Arekti Premer Golpo [Just Another Love Story] (2010)
This Bengali drama by Kaushik Ganguly is the first film on homosexuality to be made after the decriminalization of Section 377 came into being. The film follows the life of Abhiroop Sen, a transgender filmmaker who is in love with his bisexual cinematographer, Indraneil Sengupta. The duo sets out on a journey to document the life of Chapl Bhaduri, the yesteryear jatra actor. The movie showcases the problems that Abhiroop is forced to deal with to start shooting his documentary, solely because of his sexual identity. Through the course of the film, you will notice that the life of both the filmmaker and the subject overlaps with each other. Through their lives, film focuses on the mental trauma faced by members of the transgender community—not just in terms of the rejection they face from men after being used sexually, but also in terms of the problems they face in their everyday lives.
This Malayalam movie focuses on the rituals, traditions, the angst, and mentality of the Indian transgender community. The story follows the life of Vinayan, a transgender with male physique and feminine traits. However, while the movie has had mixed reviews, what almost everyone seems to agree upon is the fact that the actors have put up a stunning performance. As far as the story line goes, while the movie does give us an insight into the lifestyle of the community, thereby sensitizing the viewers, but at the same time, lacks to provide substance.
Meghdhanushya- The Colour of Life (2013)
Directed by Dr. K.R. Devmani, Meghdhanushya- The Colour of Life is the first Gujarati movie to feature the gay community in a positive light. The film revolves around the life of Tanmay, who adopts feminine traits right from his childhood, much to the concern of his parents. Through his life, they have shown their everyday experiences, the obstacles faced by them and the role they play in the society.
Naanu Avanalla…Avalu [I am not a he…but she] (2015)
Directed by B.S. Lingadevary, Naanu Avanalla…Avalu is a Kannada movie based on the autobiography I am Vidya. The story revolves around Vidya, a transgender. We are shown the life of Madhesha, a 10-year-old boy who is quite feminine in nature. His life continues to get complicated, as he struggles with his sexuality and the society that condemns him for being different. He moves to Bangalore, where he continues to feel unhappy and uneasy about his existence as a man, until he encounters a transgender community that helps him with his transformation. However, the change only increases her problem. She faces rejection from employers who don’t wish to hire her, her family who does not wish to be associated with her—but in the end, she embraces her identity as a woman.