Tag Archives: same sex relationships

Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan – A Gutsy New Love Story

Bollywood, with its penchant for cheap thrills, has always projected gay men as comic, sadly fringe people whose sole function in a movie is to induce laughter at their expense. And so, as recently as the turn of the century, we got movies like Kal Ho Na Ho, where Saif Ali Khan pretends to be in love with Shahrukh to torment his homophobic maid, Kantaben (seeing the two in bed together, throws her into a  traumatized state of comic shock).

Fast forward 15 years to 2018 and India seems to have made spectacular progress towards a humane and liberal view of same-sex relationships. In September of that year, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples deserved the same legitimacy and respect that heterosexuals are afforded under the law.

The Supreme Court ruling can’t apply to hearts and minds, however, and the roots of homophobia still run very deep in India. Ancient prejudice can’t be obliterated as easily by a legal dictum.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan is a movie that takes on this final frontier of Indian bigotry – homophobia. casteism, classism, sexism, racism, ageism, bureaucratism, and nepotism have all been tackled in the past few years by Bollywood’s profitable ‘conscience cottage industry’ of showcasing ‘human rights.’  Homosexuality is the one topic mainstream cinema tiptoed around before director Hitesh Kewalya wrote the script for Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan, and Ayushman Khurana and Jitender Kumar had the guts to play the roles of the first ‘we’re just the regular guys next door’ gay couple in Indian cinema.

This movie’s significance lies in the fact that it emphasizes the sheer ordinariness of being gay. It’s a depiction of what it means to be a homosexual, not in any chic, metropolitan, big city sense – where there is a worshipful cult around prominent gay men (think Rohit Bal, Karan Johar, Manish Malhotra) – but specifically, in a small town like Allahabad, in India’s heartland.

It’s about two regular guys who also just happen to be gay, and who go public with their sexuality in a home-spun community that vilifies such relationships. All this is woven around some gut splitting comedy, which moves from the hilarity of dysfunctional small- town family bickering (another recently popular Bollywood money spinner), to satirical spoofs on those who are homophobic, like venerable parents.

I loved some of the initial scenes in the movie, especially the ‘Shaadi Express’ where members of a clan of Tripathis from Allahbad are running to catch a train all decked out in marigold garlands. They are heading to a cousin’s (Goggle’s) wedding to an elderly divorcee, the best she can get with one eye blinded and deformed by an accident.

The doted-on son of this cozy, joint-family clan is Aman (Jitendra Kumar), a closet homosexual.  Karthik (Ayushmaan Khurana), Aman’s love interest, is an irrepressible, fearless proponent of gay rights. He’s deeply in love with Aman and convinces him to let him (Karthik) join the Shaadi Express as Aman’s guest. Disaster strikes when Aman’s father Shankar Tripathi (Gajraj Rao), catches the two kissing passionately on the train.

Shankar Tripathi’s visceral reaction is to throw up. There is some great symbolism in this movie––throw up is like the imagined collective Indian reaction to a sex scene involving two men. But the admirable screenplay and direction of this movie make us feel immediately that the throw up is the father’s problem, not his son’s.

Once he is ‘outed’ to his father, the rest of the story involves a war between the protective parent (Shankar Tripathi), and the ‘corrupt’ influence (Karthik), on a much loved son. There are various side plots involving Goggle’s attempts to ‘normalize’ her unmarried state and Shankar Tripathi’s attempt to grow a ‘flawless’ cauliflower which worms would never attack. They seem to be designed to hammer home the same message—love can come in many forms and should never be criminalized. It’s all quite comic, but at times overwhelming, like an out-of-whack pinball machine.

This movie packs in so much energy, and so much funny, corny humor, that I wonder if the director was trying to make sure the movie would be a success despite its central theme—love between two men. A romance between a man and a woman would have spun out the romantic aspect, but here we get the struggle for acceptance decked out in hilarity. A somewhat gratuitous, but very funny scene, involves Karthik and Aman helping Bhumi Pedneker in a cameo role, elope with her boyfriend.

What Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan does is normalize the individuals attached to the label—Karthik and Aman are just regular ‘nice’ guys looking for the same things heterosexuals look for—love, acceptance and happiness in a future together. We see them as very likeable and we empathize with their need to not feel like they are weird social outcasts. The jokes are never at the expense of gay men and are sharp jabs at the stereotypes and prejudices against homosexuals ingrained in middle class Indian society.

This movie is a riot, sometimes an overwhelming, overdramatized one, that tries too hard to amuse while educating.  But it’s definitely a riot worth watching. And much of the dialogue is priceless – the Tripathi family’s desperation to get Goggle married, Karthik quips, “Shaadi na hogayi, antibiotic ka course ho gaya jo pura karna zaroori hai.”

Ayushmaan Khurana brings his usual irrepressible energy and dynamism to the role and Jitendra Kumar does a good job as a cautious, worry-laden counterfoil. Gajraj Rao as the father and Neena Gupta as Aman’s mother have the same comic energy we saw in Badhai Ho, with Neena firing rounds of snappy zingers at her harassed husband and the world in general.

One has to appreciate how Hitesh Kewalya plays with Bollywood’s memorable romantic moments and recasts them as satire, in the context of gay love. The ‘Jaa Simran Jaa, Apni Zindagi Jee Lay’ dialogue from Dilwale Dulhania Layjayengay was laugh-out loud!

It’s clear the Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan team had as much fun making the movie as you will watching it.

Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing Editor at India Currents

#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.