By Tanvi Dhulia Jun. 17, 2017
Little details come together to guarantee that Loev, a fairly unremarkable tale, is elevated to a momentous film for the Indian queer community.
There’s a sharp, fleeting sequence in Sudhanshu Saria’s Loev that encapsulates what it means to be a LGBT person in this country.
Sahil and Jai, the protagonists are on their way back from dinner. Jai can’t take his eyes off his partner, and reaches out to lace their fingers together but within seconds, is forced to disentangle. A man is staring at them, observing their interaction closely. But there’s a subtle shift in Jai’s mind: The stranger’s presence makes him reach out again and hold Sahil’s hand more purposefully.
It’s a blink-and-miss moment, but it speaks volumes about how your choice of sexuality is simultaneously an affront and an act of courage. And it is especially poignant considering we’re in Pride Month, which marks the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, considered “the tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States”. In India, though, we continue to battle the stigma – on screen and in life.
While watching Loev, I was reminded of the time my visibly annoyed friend met me after a date with another guy. Earlier that evening, a similar situation had unfolded, when his date had dared to link their arms and had attracted strange looks from people around them. My buddy was torn because he neither wanted people to perceive them as a couple, nor hurt the other boy’s feelings. My friend chose to swallow his fear and carry on, but the thought that he could hold the hand of a girl in Mumbai without the same stigma attached, continued to bother him.
It is only with Loev that I find one is bound to forget that their sexuality is meant to be a well-kept secret. Courtesy: Loev/ Netflix
It is only with Loev that I find one is bound to forget that their sexuality is meant to be a well-kept secret.
Courtesy: Loev/ Netflix
This, and other little details come together to guarantee that Loev, a fairly unremarkable tale, is elevated to a momentous film for the Indian queer community. Saria himself described it as a “Post Gay” film. There’s none of the usual conflict regarding coming out, and no one in particular to hide from – except the Censor Board maybe; Loev was released directly to Netflix to bypass any nicks and cuts.
Saria is not off the mark. Our track record in portraying gay characters has been less than stellar. Gay characters have been stock props in Bollywood, objects for ridicule and mockery. We’ve had a Fire in the past, though it’s unlikely that in the current socio-political scenario, a movie like it would see a release, especially since the Censor Board and the establishment pretends that homosexuality doesn’t exist. Last year, when Aligarh released, the film’s writer Apoorva Asrani wrote in a Facebook post: “It is soul crushing for a gay person to find the word homosexual muted…” The year before, the CBFC again courted controversy for banning Unfreedom, a film about a same-sex relationship between two women, stating that the film would “ignite ‘unnatural passion’”.
Yet, there is a flicker of hope. In the past we’ve had to accept films like Dostana as progress, but we’ve come a long way since then. Last year’s Kapoor & Sons celebrated a well-rounded gay character, where homosexuality was not even spelt out: It was only meant to be understood. It was a wonderful surprise – surreal even – to think that we could come up with a gay character who was portrayed, not as an outcast, but an affectionate, beer-guzzling, Chinese-cuisine-loving son. And even as the Censor Board tries to smother any traces of queerness from popular cinema, a few short films and web series have quietly been stirring mini revolutions.
In Faraz Ansari’s Sisak, two men struggle to voice their affection for each other, as they live under the insufferable weight of Sec 377. Karishma Dube’s Devi speaks of an affair that’s doubly sinful: homosexual in nature, and dismissive of class divides. In JLT’s web series, The ‘Other’ Love Story, Aanchal and Aadya’s friendship gradually grows into love.
Last year’s Kapoor & Sons celebrated a well-rounded gay character portrayed by Fawad Khan. Courtesy: Kapoor & Sons/ Dharma Productions
Last year’s Kapoor & Sons celebrated a well-rounded gay character portrayed by Fawad Khan.
Courtesy: Kapoor & Sons/ Dharma Productions
Sure, even in these stories, the kisses are rushed, sometimes tinged with guilt. There’s always that frightful undercurrent of “What if we are caught?” Even on celluloid, queer couples fall asleep with the fear of waking up to a trembling Kantaben, standing at the foot of their bed. In Devi and The ‘Other’ Love Story, this fear is realised, and the couples have to face the music. It’s awful and it’s strange, that something so ordinary to me and my peers, is beyond the comprehension of those around us.
It is only with Loev that I find one is bound to forget that their sexuality is meant to be a well-kept secret and that it can result in brutal persecution. It is only now that we have characters like Sahil and Jai, or Aadya and Aanchal, to let us know that we aren’t abominations.