If the world would let love be

Love has found its hashtag advocate for 2019. #LetLoveBe. Introduced in the trailer of the February 2019 release Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (ELKDTAL), the hashtag could well become the slogan of the year. There is a fleeting glimpse of a woman holding the hand of another, resting her head on her lover’s shoulders, and bemoaning the presence of a siyappa (obstacle) in the path of true love.

A sonnet for love

When lyricist Javed Akhtar wrote the words for the song ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga for the film 1942-A Love Story (1994), he did not specify through the lyrics that the song should be sung only by a man professing his love for a woman. Debutant director Shelly Chopra Dhar references the track as the title for her love story between two women. In another masterstroke, the director casts the real-life father-daughter duo, actor Anil Kapoor as the father of the bride-to-be Sonam in ELKDTAL. In the 1994 film, Anil sings the ballad in praise of a woman’s ethereal beauty. Now 25 years later, his daughter hums it for another woman, giving the track a breakthrough in its genderqueer binary. Incidentally, when Akhtar was piling simile after simile to compare a girl’s beauty with nature, he was also competing with Anand Bakshi, who was comparing a woman to a mast cheez in the song ‘Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast Mast (Mohra), for the Filmfare best lyricist award.

It is no surprise there who took home the trophy that night.

This year, like every other year, when there has been a drought of LGBT+ characters in films, Sonam’s portrayal will be seen in light of the decriminalisation of Section 377 that took place in September. The Supreme Court’s landmark verdict where the judges partly struck down the Indian Penal Code stigmatising homosexuals as criminals and declared consensual adult gay sex within the legal rights of any member of the Indian society. This ruling is likely to gradually reflect in cinema and hopefully lead to more positive portrayals.

The trailer does a fantastic job of keeping the plot under wraps, coating the visuals in the usual bhangra-dance numbers and the mise en scène of the Indian wedding. These are tropes that audiences flock to and which is sometimes necessary to pull in the crowds. Will Sonam’s role in a mainstream Bollywood entertainer provide the much-needed platform for the community? But more importantly, is the audience going to endorse it? It is not the first to do so. A foot has been placed in the door.

Setting the stage

The success of Kapoor and Sons (2016) significantly passes the baton from Fawad Khan to his Khoobsurat (2014) co-star Sonam to take the next leap forward. Unlike Dostana (2008), also produced by the same production house, Dharma Productions — in which cis-gendered men pretend to be gay — Kapoor and Sons had a gay man at the centre of the story.

The character abstained from the cliché’ of the over-the-top effete man to someone who looked and behaved like everyone around him. It introduced audiences to another facet of the LGBT+ community — where some people dress, act and talk differently — which is to say, like most other hetero-normals, with just a minor and private difference in orientation.

Few films have taken a step ahead after Kapoor and Sons showed how to cast a charismatic actor from across the border. The film also cracked the image-building exercise that actors in India indulge in, shying away from playing roles that might demand them to question their own notions of acceptability with audiences.

In Padmaavat, Jim Sarbh’s character Malik Kafur is shown as a eunuch-slave of the Mughal emperor Alauddin Khilji. Wile his Binte Dil aria romancing the despot ruler deserves its own film, the part could have benefited from another star or perhaps more screen time with Khilji (Ranveer Singh) and him in the bathtub.

Transexuality was the theme in the Malayalam film Njan Marykutty, featuring actor Jayasurya. The homoeroticism of a bromance in Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety added more pink money to its box office receipts than star rating from critics. Festival films like Evening Shadows and Bulbul Can Sing also dealt with coming-of-age stories. But it wasSaif Ali Khan’s Kaalakaandi, in its bid to be humourous that ruthlessly glorified transphobia.

The sceenwriter of ELKDTAL, Gazal Dhaliwal wrote about the misrepresentation of transgender people saying, “Kaalakaandi does absolutely nothing to humanise transgender people, who are always looked at with the one-dimensional lens of sexuality.”

A voice of their own

Dhaliwal, trans woman (who was born male and underwent sex reassignment surgery), makes a valid point. Her job as the screenwriter for a same-sex romance also provides an insight on how she will probably deal with the subject with more sensitivity than a cis-gendered filmmaker writing a black comedy where people from the LGBT+ community become a joke.

Hiring talent from the LGBT+ community to speak for themselves, both off and on-screen will help to dispel myths and lead to better scripting. Decriminalisation will empower filmmakers to explore stories that could not have previously passed the CBFC regulations. One of its guidelines reads, “Scenes showing sexual perversions shall be avoided and if such matters are germane to the theme they shall be reduced to the minimum and no details are shown.”

Since homosexuality has now been given a clean chit from the law that previously called it a perversion, the CBFC has to take note and amend the guidelines to include queer themes as natural as any other form. ELKDTAL shows promise of leading the way in the coming year. #LetLoveBe.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 2:05:26 AM |

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