"In the direction of what, are you heading nowhere! How many rooms can you lock up?”
Many. Or none for Swapna and Sucheta ? two women from Nandigram who loved each other but committed suicide in February 2011. In the letter they left behind, Swapna wrote how their relationship wasn’t accepted by society, hence their decision. If You Dare Desire (or Abar Jaadi Ichcha Kardo) directed by Debalina Majumder, wishes a hopeful trajectory of Swapna and Sucheta’s life, one where they do not leave a six-page suicide letter but run away from their village to be together. Majumder has also directed Ebong Bewarish (or And the Unclaimed) that traces the lives of Swapna and Sucheta after their death, how their bodies were not accepted by their families even after they died.
In If You Dare Desire, an alternate ending is imagined for the young Swapna (played by Farha Khatun) and Sucheta (played by Manisha Bilkish) who run away from their village in Bengal to find refuge in houses of strangers. In between flashbacks of their lives at their village, Swapna and Sucheta live many lives under aliases to live the one they want ? a life where they are together. By chance they meet a journalist who does not only harbour them from heavy rain but also takes them home with her. Her progressive circle over drinks decide to help Swapna and Sucheta who now go by different names, different stories. When they overhear being sent to the police station, the women run away.
Another room opens up for them. That of an old couple and with new identities, new stories, Sucho and Swapna live a new life. Swapna now supports the old couple by selling masks and Sucheta has gotten a job through Bikash daa, the couple’s confidante. It is during this time that we see some moments of intimacy between them, moments that could have only come with stability until Bikash daa gets to know the truth. When Bikash tells the couple he wants to marry Sucheta, they see no wrong. Swapna and Sucheta are sisters, they think. When they tell Bikash they love each other, his immediate response is to think of this love as platonic, as sisterly. The audience laughs at Bikash’s response. I cannot, this is too real for me.
I once liked a man, let’s call him X, who liked me back when I was over him. He told me he loved me and I told him I am dating a woman. “I get that love, best friends type na?”, he jokes. “I am in a relationship with her” I say and he goes quiet. Like Bikash daa does. Swapna and Sucheta have to leave and the final shot of the film is them running away with their hands into each other’s, turning their heads for a smile that said no matter what their love will win.
This is Majumder’s imagination. I think of Swapna and Sucheta’s bodies lying on scattered forage, with which the film opens, and I too imagine a similar life for them. A life that might not stretch them to their fullest liberation but a life where they can be with each other, where loving each other is not made impossible. But this is the reality of many queer folx living across the world. The violence that comes with visibility, suspicion, or a mere non-conformity to gender based roles is such an everyday part of our lives that I want to scream at how routine we have made it. Don’t believe me? The organizers of the Straight Pride Parade (imagine the irony!), have gotten permission from Boston authorities to hold the march in August. These “oppressed majorities” by having something as grossly unjust and ignorant pride march for heteros have undermined the violence that queer folx face everyday, the protest that pride marches are about, denying the reality of pain and suffering that the community faces on a regular basis.
I went to watch Ek Ladki Ko Dekha toh Aisa Laga, and empathised, like many in the LGBTQI community, with “sabka dimaag ek hi direction mein kyu chalta hai?”. While I took in Swapna and Sucheta’s reality, one that we were made aware the moment the film opened, I could not help but draw comparisons. Sweety (played by Sonam Kapoor) hails from an upper class family situated in Moga, Punjab. Wrath ensues when her patriarchal, heteronormative family gets to know she loves a woman. They are angry, ashamed, worried about losing their ‘izzat’ they built over many years. But they come by. Swapna and Sucheta are not even accepted even after they commit suicide. Of course, class cannot be the only determinant. Homophobia presides in our most woke circles, and mere awareness does not lag the less woke behind. But what the different realities suggest, among other things, is that there still is work to do, immense work. The spectrum of violence faced by queer folx from families and strangers is varied, and so should be our response to it. While many of my friends came out to their families when 377 was read down, there are still many who will never come out of the closet because of the fear of being violated.
Swapna is seen constructing her suicide letter especially at the end of the film. She writes that nobody is responsible for her death except the ones who tortured her. She also apologises to her family but Sucheta says there’s no point because forgiveness will never be granted. And it wasn’t. What If You Dare Desire does, and it does it extremely well, is to tell us how small acts of acknowledgement burgeoning towards acceptance do for people in the LGBTQI community. As I write this, I think of my friend who identifies as gay and came out when 377 was read down last year, who told me few days ago how it was acceptance from his family that makes me freely love who he loves, and not only that, that he is also fiercely moving towards activism. I think of Swapna and Sucheta. And I think of the journey in between.