TV + Movies

I Remember When I Saw Brokeback Mountain

I remember the movie in all its details. A riot of senses. Gay love. Gay sex. Gay characters on screen. Love. Anger. Hurt. Heartbreak. Tender. Intimate. Beautiful. It was a movie of sights and sounds – nothing I had ever experienced. Nothing I will ever experience again.

I remember the first time I saw a queer film. It was 2006. Brokeback Mountain. Fresh off its Oscar hype and with the support of the liberal censors in the first UPA regime, the film had a limited run in India. In Kolkata, where I was then college-hunting, the film ran for two weeks, mostly relegated to off-peak time slots such as weekday mornings to avoid turning off family audiences and lure in film lovers and fags. I was both.

I remember how the stars aligned. New to the city and with no friends, I was destined to experience this alone. A solo adventure. My first time in a multiplex. A lot of firsts for me. The film was in its second week. The one remaining hall where it played was far from home, on the city’s eastern edges in a swanky new mall. Perfect for anonymity and affordable tickets at multiplex rates. After a fairly long trek, which involved three changes in transport – first by bus, then an auto, and finally, a rickshaw, I reached the hallowed mall. Confident but scared. Excited and wary.

I remember getting off, slightly hesitatingly, the auto. I was early. Now, that was awkward. So, I paced up and down. Smoked two cigarettes. Drank over-sweet spiced tea in red mud kulhads. I don’t remember buying the ticket, but I do remember a weird, part-smirky, part-incredulous look on the face of the security guard as he looked at my stub, punched a hole in it, and then padded me down.

I remember Screen 2. To the right of the escalator. The hall smelt of lime mist. Room fresheners. My seat was in the top row. I had to have the best seat. The hall was barely occupied. Seven of almost two hundred seats were taken up. Out in one of the front rows was a couple – girl and boy – who clearly, didn’t care for the movie. The other five were men – of various ages sitting far apart. Row B left. Row C extreme right. Row D to the side. All of us conscious of each other, averting our gazes. This wasn’t the kind of hall where you exchanged glances.

I remember the movie in all its details. A riot of senses. Gay love. Gay sex. Gay characters on screen. Love. Anger. Hurt. Heartbreak. Tender. Intimate. Beautiful. It was a movie of sights and sounds – nothing I had ever experienced. Nothing I will ever experience again.

I remember the taste of salty tears. My face cold and wet. A near-endless barrage. I smelled recycled air. Something I was new to. I smelled popcorn. Buttery and salty. Not the fresh, overwhelming smell that fills the kitchen when we pop a packet at home in the microwave. But the smell of stale popcorn. The ones you get on local trains in tiny portable plastic packets.

I remember how cold it was. The air conditioning disproportionate to the crowd in the hall. But I felt warm. Something tingly rose from my feet. Like a time-lapse video of a seed germinating and growing into a tree. Within the space of two hours and some minutes. The velvet new seats were comfortable. Its poshness lulled me into a sense of security.

I remember grief. Shattering. Intense. The tragic end. The bloodied shirt and jacket. Love. Self-doubt. Pity. Feeling. Not yet the flaming queen, yet so aware that I was one. Pre-Naz v NCT days. Before Obama. Before it was cool to be gay. The tragedy of the Ennis and Jack mirroring our lives. Reel imitating the real.

I remember feeling alone. Yet not. The five of us in the hall sensing each other. Distant and again, close. When a boy sitting two rows down to my immediate left, who was probably around my age, received a call from his mother, and he said he was in tuition class very loudly so as to drum out the noise of the movie, no one was annoyed. We all understood. The couple in front was too deep into their intimate world to care or notice.

I remember feeling lonely. Shameful.  We five would never see each other outside. Three of us ran as soon as the movie ended. The couple took their time getting up and getting out. I remained in my seat. Sobbing. So did one other chap. I could see him from the corner of my bleary vision. Only the sight of the hall crew made us get up and move for the exit. I think the other guy and I exchanged glances. Maybe even a soft nod. But I don’t remember his face. Not anymore.

I remember the smell of solidarity. Rebellion. Five men who dared to watch the gay film alone. A coming out. Of sorts. On chat rooms – we had Yahoo then – and Planet Romeo, no one wanted to go. Each one of the men and transwomen I spoke to online wanted to watch the movie. But going to a public hall – that too, a multiplex with its sophistication and middle-class sensibility – was an act too far. It was inaccessible to many who could. The multiplex too aspirational and expensive.

I remember talking about it online. Who could I share this with? Others online? They had their means. Pirated low-resolution CD prints had started to pop up on the streets. Never displayed openly. But if you asked, slightly furtively, then the sellers would pull it out from a hidden pack where it was tucked in the company of softcore and gory porn films. Ang Lee’s masterpiece too controversial or, maybe, too lurid for respectable buyers.

I remember the hard, cold steps on which I sat outside the hall. I remember walking out of the mall giddy. Buying an expensive cigarette. Fantasising about Jake Gyllenhaal. Happy. Proud. I smelled, felt, saw, and heard city life around me. I tasted the acrid cigarette. Alive with a bad habit.

I remember watching Brokeback Mountain in the theatre. It was 2006. It was a different time. We were illegal. Not invisible.

One thought on “I Remember When I Saw Brokeback Mountain

  1. Gaysi has been proactively shedding light over the Indian LGBTQIA + community, and I have felt every emotion definable, in words scribbled throughout his article. This is a beautiful content, and I wish more of these come out from the writers here. Cheers to you guys.

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Anupam . is a queer writer and cinephile based out of Kolkata. They watch a lot of movies, follow tennis religiously, and stans Arundhati Roy.
Anupam .

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