Queer is Delhi. Delhi is Queer.
The film addresses the notion of queering Delhi as a space, which over the last few decades has earned a queer reputation, pedalled by the queer movement. The filmmaker Anureet Watta when asked about Delhi being the quintessential queer setting for this love story said, “Delhi has already been queer, there is the Jamali Kamali, a testament to love that has survived more than five centuries, there are stories of Djinns that caress each other under the structures of the city, there is Hazrat Nizzamuddin and his ballad of love. Queerness isn’t new to the world, and it isn’t new to Delhi”.
And even though Delhi is so queer, queerness still exist in fragments and the film is an attempt to pay homage to the queer history while also carving out space for a queer present. Perhaps what’s one of the most important sub-themes of the film is that this queer desire doesn’t lay beneath the four walls of a private space. In a post Section 377 era, it traces the places where queer people have always loved and will continue to love.
Memory of A Love Story
The film can also be described as a memory of a love story, which I see as an attempt to subvert the ways in which we usually experience love stories on our screens. As per the filmmaker, memory of love keeps poetry alive. Anureet further added in their interview, “I made this film try to juggle two limits – that of a love story, and that of memory. Often, in love you are blessed with this panic of having to remember everything, for the next moment is uncertain. You collect memories like a buffer stock, something to live off of when love ends. And here within the film, this memory is quantified. 12 photographs. Beckoning the photographer to decide what to click and what to leave out. It leads to this race, where you want to take 12 photos (or memories) that capture the whole love story.” This also speaks volume about the sheer creativity that has been used in the movie as we all are familiar with the sounds of a shutting camera and what kind of moment is captured for us. Either the pictures capture everything within that sound of a click or they capture nothing at all as love also exists outside those frames.
Conflict and Resistance as a Theme
Conflict is one of the prominent themes of the film, especially since queerness lies at odds with religion, the normative idea of family etc. The line “how can you believe in god when he doesn’t believe in us?” explores the same and the filmmaker believes that love cannot exist without conflict. Anureet also delved into themes that have plagued their friends and them especially given how the film touches on the promise of radical queer politics that aims to abolish structures like family and religion that oppress us.
Even the experience of filmmaking has been nothing short of exhilarating. Even though this was Watt’s first movie with a crew, they handled their script (which they call as their literal baby) with utmost trust and also had to shoot in public places by hook or crook since they didn’t have permission to shoot.
There has been a lot of discussion lately around what constitutes queer desire and how can one portray the same. Unfortunately, most of the portrayals are through a cis-heteropatriarchal gaze, or movies about gay people made by straight people for other straight people. Oranges in the Winter Sun challenges the dominant narrative and paves the way for a fresher perspective. Watta had to say that the film is filled with their knowledge of the world and the love, and by virtue of which they ae queer. They further added, “It is the language that inhabits me and hence the gaze was inward looking, I looked at my own world instead of barging into someone else’s. The first audience for a film you want is always the people you love. What good can a film do if it does not bring joy to those you know? Thus, without thinking, I’d like to believe this film is a film made by queer people for the whole world.”
Stunning Metaphors of Desire
The word orange itself holds a lot of meaning especially for me as a queer person as one of my queer joys has been the time spent with a friend where he’d peel oranges for me. It’s such a caring act, cutting fruits, peeling oranges. It took me back to days when I was learning to peel oranges and my mother would spray some in my eyes to tease me. And watching the gentle hands of your lover peeling oranges is a very wholesome experience. Of course, it is definitely an ode to sex as well. But as Watta says, “For me the orange represents a canyon of meaning but I’d love it if for someone who watches the film it is simply a mundane fruit, being peeled and shared. Love is about the small things in the end, sometimes just the joy of sitting and rejoining some oranges in the winter sun.”
One of the most peculiar scenes of the entire film is the scene filmed within the Delhi metro where there is a space for acting on one’s desire but the sound from the metro or the announcements sounds like a fascist leader making commands for the citizens. It somehow reminds me of the line “love is a dagger” from the show Loki, since there’s love, which requires transgression of certain norms, and that’s very dangerous but then that’s also the only way.
Another brilliant point put forward by the movie is that sometimes nothing has to go wrong, also setting a precedent that challenges the normative notion of relationships where people just tend to work things out, no matter what. For me, this is a way of incorporating a queer narrative, perhaps one of time and space since nothing goes wrong in the film on surface. As per Watta, “It is not so much about working things out in a relationship, but working around things which are unfixable, like the world.” And if this doesn’t scream the quintessential queer experience of finding ways of loving, living, and caring in this world, then I don’t know what else does. It again takes me back to another show The Good Fight which explores the idea if two people with opposing political ideologies can work out a relationship with each other, which at times, ends up happening for queer people because we all see our queerness with respect to the world in a different way. We all respond to our queerness through expressions and also to our partners in different ways, which at times, are at odds with each other.
A Meditation on Queer Love, Grief, and Desire
Towards the end, the film represents a triumph reading of queer love in Delhi, ending with both a heartbreak and a hope. The heartbreak comes through the withering of the orange, which represents the short times when love touches in and then it just withers away and also hopes for a better world, for an alternate dimension where we are able to fight against the structural powers and ideologies that oppress us. The heartbreaking ending is a testament to pursual of queer love in today’s world as we see the photo of Kalki leaving. This, in the words of the filmmaker, is about how we get to keep the memory, and not the love. Oranges in the Winter Sun ultimately queerly meditates on love, grief, and desire.