Krishna Parthasarathy drove to Fairfield to check his in-law’s home, as they were out of town. “There were cops all around,” he said. “We had to say we had to evacuate the cat. This is not the first time this has happened.”
Mr. Parthasarathy tried to think about what his in-laws would want him to take. He cleared out the puja room. Every single thing, including the mandap, hand-stitched Bhagavad Gita paintings, and photos of the acharyas.
Face masks and sanitation supplies were the top two items on evacuation packing lists found online. With California reaching over 700,000 COVID cases this was a stark reminder that families concerned about the survival of their homes must also take precautions with their physical health.
Padma Srinivasan of Fremont could not see down the street from her home, which was in an evacuation warning zone. “What happened was one day, it got so bad. The road going from our house is a little narrow. So, we left,” said Ms. Srinivasan. “I took some essential things. Some things that are sentimental and some things that are valuable.”
After the fires started, the Air Quality Index for many districts went past 170, well into the Unhealthy range. Yaamini Rao, who lives up the Peninsula, was woken up by the lighting that first Sunday. Since then she has been staying indoors. “You can see the haze all over. It smells like an endless campfire,” said Ms. Rao.
This experience has prompted many to reflect on what is valuable and important and essential. “We have so many possessions and they can become a burden. We don’t need that much to live, you know?,” said Ms. Srinivasan. “When we go to Yama, Yama does not let us bring a suitcase. We go empty-handed,” said Mr. Parthasarathy.
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.”
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.
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.