The third season of Dice Media’s, Firsts, which launched on their YouTube channel on October 14, 2020 features Himika Bose and Shreya Gupto as Lavanya and Ritu, two queer women who met each on Tinder and moved in together. Although the “moving in together after the second date” stereotype that queer women have earned within the community is blatantly at play here, it’s safe to say that this small nod to our inside joke could have passed straight above the grasp of the heterosexual audience watching.
As for the show itself, Ritu and Lavanya’s journey is a good example of love in the presence of an ever-extending pandemic. Between Lavanya losing her job and their romantic dates in the living room, the show does a fairly good job of representing the normality of day to day queer life. In fact, one of the best features of the show was the simplicity of it. No scantily clad women rubbing their bodies together, not one fetishized aspect of storytelling used; the question of ‘normal’ was very beautifully fought for in this series. When so many of us have to fight regularly for the right to live normal lives, to prove to our oppressors that our love isn’t out of ordinary and that we simply hope to exist as we are, this show depicts the simple life so many of us queer hopeless romantics wish to live, very beautifully.
Another important aspect was the subtle underplay of Lavanya’s sexuality – it is never spoken of during the entire five-part series. We see several glimpses of Ritu’s bisexuality splattered across the screenplay, but Lavanya’s sexuality was not a point of discussion at all, it is not even treated as an elephant in the room, which earns it a few more brownie points for being a well-written script. This, in turn, highlights the most important aspect of queer love: that people do not fall in love with labels, they fall for people and their personalities. Ritu fell in love with Lavanya not because she was a lesbian or pansexual or a bisexual person, she fell in love with her because she was Lavanya. Labels are important to a lot of people, to help identify themselves and feel much closer to their true self, but when it comes to loving someone, labels take the last spot on that priority list.
As mentioned, the other not so subtle emphasis was indeed on Ritu’s bisexuality. Even though the writing here was not very nuanced and lacked subtleties here and there, it is quite understandable why this creative decision was taken. Unlike our western counterparts, the Indian mainstream audience is not at all used to watching queer stories being played out as complex, emotional cinematic experiences. Since there is a huge gap in the Indian market for queer representation (with some exceptions), it becomes imperative to introduce the majorly heteronormative audience to queer love, little by little, even if it means overplaying some of the aspects. Hence, it makes perfect sense for the writers to not hide messages in the cinematography or nuanced acting, lest it be overtly lost on the people who have not seen anything like this before. It is not as if there weren’t subtleties at all throughout the series – with Ritu’s brother’s silence and Lavanya’s friends’ blatant biphobia, the topic of bisexuality felt nicely handled.
One thing that did strike me personally was a very off-hand, unassuming comment made by Lavanya when Ritu had just moved in with her: “It’s not as if we’ll be bringing any boys around.” “Yeah, for the neighbours, we’re just two friends living together.” The mere fact that women-loving-women relationships aren’t seen as romantic enough or normal enough to be accepted for what they are, that people will always assume two women to be friends and nothing more, has always perturbed me immensely. Homophobia is so peculiarly different for people who identify as men and women, because two men will most probably be labelled queer for showing affection towards each other, whereas two women would still probably need to scream that they’re queer and in love on the day of their wedding. This stems from deeply-rooted patriarchal and misogynistic ideas that our forefathers left us to deal with, because women are only ever thought to be made for men – as a lover, as a wife. The idea of love in a woman should only exist for her husband, her children and of course, her God (who is also a man apparently, notice the pattern?). The fact that women can love women in capacities beyond friendship is unheard of, and is un-entertained. So, what is left for those who were assigned female at birth is a heavy load of guilt with a dash of imposter syndrome, which truly trivialises their queerness. The fact that queerness in women is felt as a subversion of their default state of heterosexual living is enough to understand how small of a thought is given to the normality and simplicity of queer women and their love for each other.
Nevertheless, Dice Media’s portrayal of queer love has enough moments to warm your heart and make you yearn for a comfort that love and serenity bring with themselves. Apart from definitely being a step forward in the direction of normalising LGBTQI+ relationships for a mainstream Indian audience, it proves to be a sweet watch.