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#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.

Sanju: Flawed and Zany, But Not a Terrorist

I love Sanjay Dutt. The cool Indian rockstar superstar with heart. An impossibly flawed hero who has failed many times, and repeatedly mustered up the strength to pick himself up, and face his demons.

No doubt the actor has been wed to trouble all his life. Yet he also showed up, every single time, bigger and better with rock-solid performances. After a confidently tentative debut in Rocky (1981) and the grounding comeback with Naam (1986), his graph has been consistent through the years with Saajan (1991), Sadak (1991), Khalnaayak (1993), Dushman (1998), Vaastav (1999), Mission Kashmir (2000), Kaante (2002), Munnabhai MBBS (2003), Parineeta (2005), Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006) and PK (2014).

He is the king of bad personal choices, has worn his faults openly, like badges almost, and carelessly. Quite amazingly, he, or rather his wife Manyata, have now convinced an A-list director to tell his story, and an A-list actor to play him.

No mean feat this, specially since Rajkumar (Raju) Hirani is known for being discerning in his work, questioning the paradoxes in the social fabric of our society. No one else but Ranbir Kapoor could have played Sanjay Dutt. He is so flawless that I had to remind myself this is Ranbir, and not Sanjay in some of the scenes. Mannerisms, walk, tone of voice, unhinged addiction, emotions, awkward bait, the wild spirit… he absorbs all of it.

I couldn’t help but smile at the Nargis and Raj Kapoor connection. Her son and his grandson, decades after, creating magic in a different way. Genes in full glory to perfection, with hard work and practice thrown in for good measure. Ranbir rehearsed for six months, watched Sanjay’s videos, and called him before some important scenes to understand his exact emotion.

There is also the reality that unlike the reticent Salman Khan, who had a similar journey and went into ‘fix-it’ mode with good films and social work, Sanjay has been publicly emotional, vocal, and explicit about most details. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can access the whole story, which is well-documented and easily available. Sanjay’s legacy is complicated by celebrity parents, with his pampering mother Nargis, who adored him, and a strict father Sunil Dutt, who took him to task. How he was affected by her cancer, Rocky’s debut and instant stardom, drugs, rehabilitation, second comeback, success, superstar status, losing it again with the AK-56 possession, spiraling life, criminal history, court case, sentences, jail visits and returns, struggles, love affairs, marriages, friendships, family, feuds… all of it is there.

No doubt Sanju is heavily tilted towards the controversial actor’s perspective of not being a terrorist. At the same time, Raju unreservedly portrays his flaws. They appear twice as magnified on screen, despite the countless number of print and online pages devoted to him. Any director would have probably made five sequels off those. There’s just so much of the actor, and person. His survival story is unique, incredible and mind-boggling: a mammoth job to capture in words, or on screen.

Co-writer Abhijat Joshi and writer-editor-director Raju cleverly focus on Sanjay’s emotional state of mind, and his relationship with his father Sunil Dutt (Paresh Rawal, at his most poignant) and friend Kamlesh Kanhaiyalal Kapasi (Vicky Kaushal, first-rate), during two prominent, ugly phases – his drug addiction and gun possession. They chart Sanjay’s story from a biographer’s point of view (Winnie Diaz, sincerely played by Anushka Sharma) – directly addressing questions many of us have around those events. In that sense, the movie is revealing and relevant for both his fans, as well as others.

Where Sanju misses the mark is on the gun track. It rushes into completion – almost as if the duo didn’t want to delve into it. Perhaps he acquired the guns as impulsively as he did the drugs. It leaves out some relevant, crucial aspects, like his first foray in jail, camaraderie with inmates, and court appearances. Blame is placed on external factors such as the drug peddler Zubin Mistry (Jim Sarbh), incessant media hounding and the underworld pressure a tad too conveniently, which rankled. The sexist judgment of a woman’s morality, not cool. The drugs phase, failing relationship, and mother’s cancer degeneration parts were excellently portrayed and sad to watch. The father-son song games were warm and fuzzy – especially the last one.

Jim aces it but please, can someone cast him in a romantic role and do justice to those sexy eyes? Diya Mirza, who played Manyata was effective but miscast. (Perhaps Kangana Ranaut would have captured her fire and zing better?) The voyeur in me also felt cheated on the details of his colorful love life: understandably that doesn’t relate to the film’s narrative. The tiny appearances, of Ruby (Sonam Kapoor, superb and spot on) and Pinky (Karishma Tanna, charming), did whet some of that appetite. We all know Ruby, I am still trying to crack who the Pinky character is. Hmmm.

The songs are d… d… dazzling, with varied composers. Main Badhiya Tu Bhi Badhiya, voiced fabulously by duo Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan, is all kinds of fun visually, with Ranbir’s version of crazy and Rohan-Rohan’s vintage music. Vikram Montrose creates the inspirational Kar Har Maidan Fateh (Sukhwinder Singh, Shreya Ghoshal) and fun surprise package Baba Bolta Hai Bas Ho Gaya (guess who appears in end credits, tap dancing with Ranbir). A. R. Rahman breezes in to work his musical magic with the richly evocative Ruby Ruby (Shaswat Singh, Poorvi Koutish) and seductively haunting Mujhe Chaand Pe Le Chalo (Nikhita Gandhi, awesomely come-hither).

Ravi Varman’s cinematography, which brings this emotional spectacle together, is superbly aesthetic; intimate, lively, and visually stunning.

Watching Sanjay Dutt’s life is moving in parts. The spotlight is on redemption, without an attempt to hide his faults. The movie entertains, but falls short on awesomeness.

So what’s the verdict? It’s definitely worth a trip to the cinema, especially for the Ranbir experience. Watching him in Sanju is a double treat. Two actors come alive on screen, and it is hard to tell who is better. Check, and double check.

Score: 4 out of 5

Sanju (2018). Director: Rajkumar Hirani. Writers: Abhijat Joshi, Rajkumar Hirani. Players: Ranbir Kapoor, Diya Mirza, Vicky Kaushal, Paresh Rawal, Sonam Kapoor, Karishma Tanna. Music: AR Rahman, Rohan-Rohan and Vikram Montrose. Theatrical release: Vinod Chopra Films, Rajkumar Hirani Films.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.


Veere di Wedding: Of Filter-Free Rollicking and Fabulous Veeres

Veere Di Wedding (VDW) was worth every micro-second of the long wait if we go by famous words uttered by the ever-articulate Swara Bhasker: “It has taken 105 years for mainstream Bollywood to make a film about four girlfriends and none of them are falling in love with the same guy.” Truth.

We now have a high-spirited female version of Dil Chahta Hai (2001), for lack of a better comparison, with mainstream actors. VDW gets the core of breezy group friendships right and doesn’t delve much into life stories as its depth lies elsewhere. The awesome foursome glide in tandem taking us on a rib-tickling, racy and memorable adventure instead.

Freely living in their space without filter, we have seen these girls in real life but they have been missing from Hindi cinema. A young mother needs to party hard; a bride demands a drink to ease her stress; a single girl leads a kiss because she is horny; a woman screams expletives into the phone. No judgment. No justification, aid or loophole either. 

Wow. Like, really. Wow.

Not every venture featuring lead women actors needs to bear the burden of being chick flick or feminist. There is a commercial place between frivolous and serious which can still convey an important message by just being. This is that.

Director Shashanka Ghosh and writers Nidhi Mehra and Mehul Suri do an outstanding job with the storytelling, script and dialogue and this is where true gold is. An ordinary story turns extraordinary with mundane scenes that knock Hindi cinematic boundaries subtly and beautifully, boldly touching upon and normalising aspects of female sexuality, motherhood, marriage, and single life.  

Commitment issues in a woman, check. She races into a toilet at the mere thought of marriage before saying yes; the audience I am watching it with goes into double splits. Perceptions of motherhood, check, check. She vomits a mad, drunk night into the toilet pot as her two-year-old cutely imitates “uwooah”. More amused women in the cinema. Masturbation, check, check, check. She is gadget-happy, nothing comes between her and a good time. Giggles and laughs. A man who has different views of wife vs. girlfriend, check, check, check, check. She calls him out pronto, and finds a man who doesn’t. The Nirmal and Bhandari characters elicit the right responses from women.

The lives of Kalindi (Kareena Kapoor), Avni (Sonam Kapoor), Sakshi (Swara Bhasker) and Meera (Shikha Talsania) unfold in an OTT Delhi wedding setting which works like a charm. Especially with the banter and colouful vocabulary.  The girls meet after ten years for Kalindi’s wedding. With dysfunctional families in the mix, life’s complicated while they are caught amid the flamboyant and hilarious celebration prep. All that jazz does happen for real, complete with a couple mounted on a fake moon and a wedding scene with varying degrees of flashiness. So it gets both the Delhi wedding culture and sarcasm down pat.

Kalindi fears marriage even as she accepts boyfriend Rishabh’s (Sumeet Vyas) marriage proposal. Their relationship is captured well. Everything is right and yet external pressures weigh on them. Avni struggles with the lows of single life, a pushy mother completing the picture. A suitor tanks and a fling soars who she judges rather unfairly. Only she gets over it, unlike her male counterpart Nirmal. Sakshi is battling a separation from her husband, trying to steer her mind away from the final decision by having a good time partying. Happily married to American John (Edward Sonnenblick), Meera is having body image issues after the baby.

The choreography is excellent, mapping the comical wedding dances and the friends’ emotional journeys. Music is racy and blends well with the grandeur, despite varied composers. Shashwat Sachdev composes the loony Pappi Le Loon (Sunidhi Chauhan ), crazy Bhangra Ta Sajda, peppy Bass Gira De Raja and the melancholic Aa Jao Na. White Noise creates the quirky Laaj Sharam and Vishal Mehra the lovely title song Veere and lively Dagmag DagmagTareefan is super sizzling.

The editing by Shweta Venkat Matthew is meticulous, crisp and in tune with the entertaining and warm tone. Sudhakar Reddy Yakkanti’s cinematography is immersive.

Performances are above par, across the lead and supporting cast. Neena Gupta (Avni’s mother) is graceful, Anjum Rajabali and Kavita Ghai (Kalindi’s father and mother) are effective, Ayesha Raza and Manoj Pahwa (Rishabh’s mother and father) are rollicking. Alka Kaushal is perfect as Santosh Aunty. Vivek Mushran (Cookie Chacha) and Sukesh Arora (Keshav) rock as an everyday gay couple (sans usual mannerisms).

The few good men supporting the women are talented. Vishwas Kini makes Bhandari likeable and balanced despite the initial creepiness. Edward is earnest as the quintessential husband. Sumeet Vyas is A-excellent and holds his own splendidly opposite Kareena. They are quirkily flawless as a pair.

KS3 are electric and magnificent as buddies. They nail the Delhi banter, camaraderie, body language, chemistry, insecurities, parallel long-distance lives and naughtily push each other’s buttons.

Kareena Kapoor is exquisitely understated, lending calm and charm to Kalindi. Her eyes do most of the talking. Sonam Kapoor makes Avni delightfully goofy, correct and heartfelt. Watch her regal stance when she interacts with the brazen Bhandari. Shikha Talsania‘s Meera is sweet as sugar and mad as a hatter as the need arises. Her ‘mother dairy’ act is effortless and sparkling, she delivers some saucy lines with deadpan relish. Swara Bhasker’s Sakshi is the knockout performance in technique and spirit. The masturbation scene will etch her name in history. She’s the real bro, effortlessly wild and cool.

Rhea Kapoor and Ekta Kapoor, heartfelt gratitude, words are not enough to convey my joy. Thank you for Veere Di Wedding and for not screwing it up. (Except, do go easy on the product placements next time and be confident your movie will earn its own money.)

It is six on five for the VDW team. The one extra is for educating us urbanites on what an orgasm is called in Hindi. Khh baby khh. Send your thinking brain on a vacay to experience the joys of this Charam Sukhh.

Rating: 6 out of 5

Veere Di Wedding. Director: Shashanka Ghosh. Writers: Nidhi Mehra, Mehul Suri. Players: Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Shikha Talsania, Swara Bhasker, Sumeet Vyas, Vishwas Kini. Music: Shashwat Sachdev, Vishal Mehra. Theatrical release: Balaji Motion Pictures, Anil Kapoor Films & Communication Network, Saffron Broadcast & Media.

Hamida Parkar is a freelance journalist and founder-editor of cinemaspotter.com. She writes on cinema, culture, women and social equity.