The Indian web-series market has witnessed a surge in interest in the recent years. The initial wave of shows focused on fresh content marketed to a young generation that felt misrepresented in the available mainstream television market. However, more recently, there has been a growth of series that are largely heteronormative, focused on college-going men oriented and/or slapstick comedies about navigating urban life.
With an exception of very few web-series, online content has fallen victim to reducing minorities to mere subplots. Series such as ALTBalaji’s Dev DD, and Vikram Bhatt’s Twisted are using LGBTQ characters — not as a solid addition to their storylines, but as simple fillers. Instead of being truly diverse, these shows come across as making feeble attempts at diversity by filling minor plot breaks with minorities.
And so, it has now become more important than ever to find authentic voices telling LGBTQ stories. Because minorities and their narratives are not plots points to be used in a series to make it seem more liberal.
Following are four Indian web series that do express strong plot-lines and have LGBTQ characters right at the center of all the action.
This series was released last year to relatively little fanfare. According to Roopa Rao, its director, the project had to be crowd-funded after investors pulled out. The result is a commendably sensitive portrayal of two women slowly acquiring the vocabulary to express their love for each other in a pre-smartphone era. The show expertly captures the intricacies of young love — the confusion and thrill of new discoveries — which make the series highly relatable for young LGBTQ youth. In the story set in the late 90s, the two girls, Aadya and Aanchal, inch towards a more modern time, clutching at their dupattas and each other as the 20th century comes to a close. The entire series is available on YouTube.
This ALTBalaji series was released earlier this year, and gives us the gay version of the Shakespearean classic we so desperately needed. The show is directed by Nupur Asthana, the famed creator of the hit 90’s TV series Hip Hip Hurray! Romil and Jugal is funny at points — especially at the expense heterosexual relationships – even though it sometimes appears to exaggerate things in an typical Balaji production style. The story is based in a small, posh town inhabited with good-looking people and seems to have been made with a certain idea of how LGBTQ people should (or would) live, and not as they do. The series has succeeded in not falling into the trap of victimizing the minorities, instead portraying the inherent struggles a gay boy faces in the closet rather playfully. Three episodes can be viewed for free on YouTube and the rest can be watched on ALTBalaji’s app.
This series revolves around the life of Suresh, a straight man, who lands in Mumbai at his cousin’s house and discovers that his famous photographer cousin is gay. The show is a little campy and while it doesn’t hurry in labelling its LGBTQ characters, it does get a tad stereotypical at points. But the series is harsher on its straight male protagonist, whose ignorance and horror at discovering that his cousin is gay reflects his (and general society’s) presumptions about LGBTQ people. The series also succeeds at sensibly portraying the relationship of the central gay couple. The entire series is available on YouTube.
This show is built on the premise of demolishing tags that people are often given and demonstrating how unnecessary those tags are. While the show tries to steer clear of stereotyping its two LGBTQ characters, it struggles in fleshing out their nuances. These characters seem to have been written without any depth, using common tropes in LGBTQ stories – a gay man being fashion-forward, for instance, or hitting on straight men, or being best friends with a straight girl with a problematic love life — due to which, it gets difficult to relate to them. It is 2017, and surely the world must realize that there is more depth to LGBTQ characters than preconceived generalisations permit. However, the show is only seven episodes in and is still ongoing, so one can hope for a positive growth for all its characters. All episodes are available on the Voot website.