Tag Archives: Aligarh

#LetLoveBe — On a New Road

The first two months of 2019 are seeing the release of two films — Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga and Evening Shadows that may just open up the conversation around same-sex relationships in Indian families. January 11 saw the release of Evening Shadows, a film that talks about a gay man coming out to his conservative family and the consequences of his decision.

Feb 1 will see the release of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga (ELKDTAL) that is strongly hinting at lesbian love and family acceptance. Could these films bring about a conversation between Indian LGBTQ children and their parents, many of whom find it hard to accept alternate sexuality?

Evening Shadows tells the story of Karthik (Devansh Doshi), a photographer who goes back to his home town from Mumbai and reveals to his conservative mother (played by Mona Ambegaonkar) that he is gay. The film is about the mother’s journey to come to terms with her son’s homosexuality. It’s also the story of a woman in a patriarchal set up standing up to her husband (Ananth Mahadevan) for herself and her son.

Evening Shadows released to mixed reviews from critics but has been universally acknowledged for its theme and intention. ELKDTAL is already creating a huge Twitter buzz thanks to its trailer that says #LetLoveBe. Produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra and directed by Shelly Chopra Dhar, what’s getting the film’s trailer a lot of eyeballs is a mainstream actress like Sonam Kapoor playing the lead. The trailer shows Sonam speaking of a secret she cannot share with anyone and ends with her holding hands and sitting with another girl.

Films broaching the subject of homosexuality have rarely made noise for the right reasons in India. Film maker Deepa Mehta’s 1996 film Fire (1996) sparked a controversy; Onir’s My Brother Nikhil (2005) wasn’t noticed much. Aligarh (2016), based on a true story, was released in 2016 after Censor Board cuts. It was critically acclaimed but didn’t make an impact on a mass scale.

There are hopes for a change, though.

On September 6, 2018, the Supreme Court of India struck down Section 377, a colonial law that criminalized homosexuality. Despite the positive judgement and an emerging conservation around India on LGBTQ rights, talking about sexual orientation remains a taboo topic in India, especially among families.

Shelley Chopra Dhar, the director of ELKDTAL, hopes her film might be a catalyst in some people’s lives. In a voiceover to the film’s trailer she adds, “There is nothing, no problem, no issue, no entanglements in our brain that cannot be cleared by just changing our perspective.”

Evening Shadows’ director, Sridhar Rangayan, feels the film has already made a dent in some ways. “Those who have seen Evening Shadows in India and many parts of the world have said this film mirrors the kind of conversations that they have had with their parents already, or offers them hope to begin conversations. There has been a barrage of requests on social media for the film to be available widely so youngsters can show it to their families. Many want to come out to their parents by showing this film. Even non-LGBTQ youngsters have said that the film shows the divide between generations and the need for conversations.”

Evening Shadows

Saagar Gupta, creative director and dialogue writer of Evening Shadows, thinks such films could be the flashpoint in starting that dialogue of understanding and acceptance within families.

Queer representation in Hindi cinema has usually been more caricatures than sensitive — remember the shocked Kantabai from Kal Ho Na Ho (2003)? Despite occasional gems like Aligarh, movies focused on a queer theme have not made much of a social impact either. In a post-377 environment, the release of two movies focused on the queer theme and family acceptance could probably be a sign of times to come.  

Rangayan, who with real-life partner Gupta, started writing the Evening Shadows screenplay almost seven years ago ends with a note of hope: “though the verdict regarding Sec 377 kept changing in between, but our film’s end remains the same right through as our intention was to bring forth the much-needed dialogue between Indian LGBTQ children with their families and vice-versa.”

Hindi films often act as a social impact catalyst for issues that Indians find difficult to talk about. They also have the power to introduce new ideas. Earlier in 2018, a Hindi film called Padman went a long way in starting conversations around menstruation. Perhaps films like Evening Shadows and ELKDTAL could work towards easing the conversation in Indian families around having same-sex partners.

Not an easy road yet

With 15 international awards and a 54 film festiva run, Sridhar Rangayan and Saagar Gupta thought there will be a beeline for distributing Evening Shadows. “But we realized soon enough that a LGBTQ feature film with no known star cast is a tough sell in India. The distribution system still goes by the book, as much as the Censor Board – only here the rule book is commercial viability. There are no risk takers,” says Rangayan.

Evening Shadows is directed by Rangayan and written by Rangayan and Gupta. They eventually released the film themselves by turning distributors with their company Solaris Picture. Rangayan adds, “We did a limited release of 15 shows in 6 cities and are now planning to release the film in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in India where such films can make a huge difference.”

The tepid reaction Rangayan and Gupta got from mainstream Bollywood producers and directors is probably reason enough to make more films that focus on taking the queer conversation forward.

Evening Shadows (2019). Director: Sridhar Rangayan. Writers: Saagar Gupta  & Sridhar Rangayan. Cast: Mona Ambegaonkar, Ananth Narayan Mahadevan, Devansh Doshi. Music: Shubha Mudgal. Producer & Distributor: Solaris Pictures.

Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga (2019). Director: Shelly Chopra Dhar. Writer: Gazal Dhaliwal. Shelly Chopra Dhar. Cast: Sonam Kapoor, Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, Rajkumar Rao, Regina Cassandra. Music: Rochak Kohli. Producer: Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Distributed by: Fox Star Studios, 20th Century Fox.

Reshmi Chakraborty is a freelance writer based in Pune. She writes on diverse themes and co-runs a startup for older adults. Read more at www.silvertalkies.com.

Photo credits: Solaris Films, Imdb.

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain.

Top 10 Hindi Movies of 2016

film1a, Hindi MoviesFlying kicks, three point landings and stolen kisses. As both budgets and box offices for Hindi movies reach new heights, two trends become strikingly obvious. First, movies that would play well to international audiences are more often than not getting green-lighted. Streamlined scripts and far-flung geographic settings, supported by India’s expanding international trade ties, are helping to expand the market for Hindi movies to the farthest corners of the globe. The other trend is the fondness for story lines taken from real life events—indeed, six of the ten films on this short list are based on real life stories. The convergence of real life and reel life and other movie highlights in a year of Hindi movies.

1) Neerja
A real life planned hijacking from the 1980s retold three decades later in Ram Madhvani’s taut thriller was the apex Hindi movie event for 2016. An otherwise on-time PanAm Boeing 747 flight from Bombay to New York via Karachi is stormed on the runway in Karachi and immediately ignites jittery and far-reaching pre-9/11 geo-political shockwaves. The pilots escape and the almost 400 passengers are at the mercy of armed Palestinian terrorists. Everything appears lost—save for the actions of one very brave Indian flight attendant. Sonam Kapoor’s coming of age in the title role Neerja was both convincing and moving.  Supported by Shabana Azmi (as Neerja’s mother), Yogendra Tikku (as the father) and Jim Sharbh (as an especially creepy, crazed gun-wielding on-board antagonist-in-chief), the gripping entertainer also tapped into anxieties related to modern travel and the existential fear of death at a moment’s notice.

2) Aligarh
film2a, Aligarh The rights of the LGBT community in India perfectly correlate to the rising and ebbing fortunes of Indian Constitution’s so-called Section 377, an archaic writ carried over from the British Raj. Hansal Mehta’s ground-breaking Aligarh, based on a true story, unfolds as a 64-year old linguistics professor is entrapped in a consensual sexual tryst with a rickshaw puller. Manoj Bajpayee in the lead superbly channels the professional and personal toll taken on a learned, tortured and ostracized man piecing together shards of an explosively shattered life. Supported by Rajkumar Rao as a rookie reporter struggling to land on his two feet, Aligarh in on par with Brokeback Mountain in chronicling situational alienation faced by older, detached gay men up against a deluge of official and social scorn.

3) Pink
This fictitious urban crime and court procedural having no big names other than Amitabh Bachchan in a supporting role, emerged as the unlikeliest of box office hits of the year. Made on a modest budget, the plight of three carefree young women leading a city-life of budding careers and clubbing runs into a wall.  The women (well played by Taapsee Pannu, Kirti Kulhari and Andrea Tariang) being accused of attacking their would-be dates on a weekend after-hours outing becomes a legal quagmire worth pausing for. As their well-connected accusers—all young men from moneyed families—make getting a fair trial all but impossible, a retired lawyer (Bachchan, stoically playing a cynic of the legal system) steps in to accept the case. Director Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury’s captivating court-room drama was enhanced by social commentary on just what makes a “victim,” making Pink a lesser vehicle with places to go.

4) Raman Raghav 2.0  
Anurag Kashyap, who appeared all but lost after dropping Bombay Velvet in 2014, regained solid footing with this minimalist and yet highly stylish fictionalized psycho story based on the real life serial killer Raman Raghav who terrorized Bombay in the 1960s. In true guerilla-filmmaking credentials, Kashyap’s framework employed actual Mumbai tenements, back streets and deserted alleys—often without permission. In the title role, Nawazuddin Siddique’s turned in a brilliant performance as the babbling, sexually confused, night prowler who may or may not have carried out a series of brutal slayings, including those of some of his relatives. Even the publicity poster was creepy. Thanks to Kashyap and Siddique, yes, that involuntary shiver up the spine was very real.

5) Rustom
A decorated navy officer and husband returning home, a lonely wife he returns home to and the dashingly handsome family friend who turns up dead formed a captivating and dramatic triangle inspired by a true Bombay murder mystery from 1959. Akshay Kumar, the reigning box office champion this year, in smart navy dress whites cuts a fetching murder-suspect. As his suffering wife, Ileana D’Cruz is remarkably retrained while Arjan Bajwa’s upper crust family friend, who ends up dead, personifies a seedy philanderer.  Staged against the backdrop of high seas intrigue and the race for India to get her first aircraft carrier, filmmaker Tinu Desai’s period piece brought it all together very nicely.

6) Happy Bhaag Jayegi
A runaway bride can end up in the next village, one city over or even the next state.  But a runaway bride ending up in Pakistan? Oh, no, she didn’t!  Mudassar Aziz’s delightful comedy Happy Bhaag Jayegi attempts reigning in an unhappy bride-to-be, ironically named Happy (Diana Penty)—running away from her big fat Delhi wedding only to end up in Pakistan.  The laughs come at the expense of the clash of cultures—and not from any political thumb-nosing. Newcomer Penty gets commendable support from Abhay Deol as the Lahore princeling whose household party Happy crashes. Piyush Mishra— who turned all serious as the bald-headed prosecuting attorney opposing Bachchan in Pink—does scene-stealing numbers here as the Indophobe two-bit Lahore beat-cop forced to travel to India against his wishes.

7) Airlift
Saddam Hussein’s ill-fated takeover of Kuwait in 1990 caught the planet by surprise. Trapped in the nightmare of fast moving events on the ground, the fate of some 170,000 Indian migrant workers having to confront possible violence in the hands of advancing Iraqi troops already resorting to rape and pillage over anyone that got in their way became a logistical nightmare of its own.

In Raja Krishna Menon’s smartly staged mass escape story, another fine example of a Hindi film based on real life events, the initial response from the Indian government is indifference.  It is up to Akshay Kumar’s Kuwait City businessman Ranjit Katyal to enter the frantic foray, albeit reluctantly, to organize a gigantic multi-pronged, multi-national rescue.  The rescue itself is a sharp, even at times hair raising, example of large canvass, onscreen synergy that actually works.

8) Sultan   
Salman Khan movies of late have him portraying characters that demonstrate— —heaven forbid—humility. Think of the devout simpleton in Bajrangi Bhaijaan who vowed to deliver a lost little girl back to her family in Pakistan. Think of the mixed martial arts champ in Sultan whose protagonist’s inflated ego leads to a career crash and then who must fight to regain his lost mojo. The character moderation, incidentally, has made these two entries the biggest box office hits of Khan’s career. With Ali Abbas Zafar at the helm, Sultan, the biggest box office hit of 2016, balanced the right amount of family time (with Anushka Sharma playing Khan’s onscreen wife) and adrenaline-rush mixed martial arts jousts that are both well-choreographed and entertaining.

9) Udta Punjab
Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab was an effective, eye-popping, vulgar and dark odyssey into opiates abuse in contemporary India. Looking out from within the twisted, unholy South Asian nexus that connects political, law enforcement and pharmaceutical industry corruption on hand and human trafficking and modern slavery on the other hand, calling this a wake-up call would not be an overreach.  A fine ensemble cast included Shahid Kapoor as a doped out, potty-mouthed concert rapper, Alia Bhatt as a trafficked migrant worker and Kareena Kapoor as a doctor specializing in substance abuse recovery who moonlights as a gumshoe by teaming up with a cop (Diljit Dosanjh) to unravel a white powder conspiracy.

10) Azhar  
Tony D’Souza’s loose biopic of Indian cricket great Mohammad Azharuddin, Azhar for short, is set against a backdrop of match-fixing allegations that swept the world of cricket during the last decade.  Compared to say, M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story, the other cricket-connected biopic from this year which re-told a chapter by chapter tracing of its title character with the human aspect thrown in also, Azhar fixating more on the match fixing scandal and its effect on Azhar’s life really perked up the pace and energized the movie.  Played by Emraan Hashmi with surprising acuity, Azhar depicts a flawed man more savvy with professional decisions on the pitch then off the pitch. With Nargis Fakhri, Prachi Desai and Lara Dutta in a terrific supporting cast, Azhar was the better cricket-related outing.

Minor rant:  Due to tight print deadlines, year end 2016 movies releases that look promising as possible highlights —Aamir Khan fronting director Nitesh Tiwari’s wrestling biopic Dangal, Gauri Shinde’s Dear Zindagi with Shahrukh Khan and Alia Bhatt, John Abraham-Sonakshi Sinha in Abhinay Deo’s action-adventure Force 2, Vidya Balan in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani 2 and Aditya Chopra’s highly anticipated re-entry into directing with Befikre, featuring Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor.

On to 2017.  Happy movie going!

Globe trekker, aesthete, photographer, ski bum, film buff, and commentator, Aniruddh Chawda writes from Milwaukee.