Five Queer Love Stories in Hindi Film and Streaming
Earlier today, the Supreme Court declined an appeal to legitimise same-sex marriage in India, tossing that hot-potato issue to the Parliament instead. It’s a disheartening move, which is perhaps a good reason to turn to the world of fiction. Of course, there’s a long way to go as far as queer representation in Hindi cinema is concerned but despite pushbacks and limitations, even mainstream movies have made a concerted effort to include queerness in their stories and depict queer romances in the way heterosexual romances are. Visibility comes with certain caveats, but there are certain good-faith representations that tug at the heart, move, and are markers of an increasing push towards making queer desire both palpable and swoonworthy. Here are a few love stories that do what today’s verdict couldn’t do — acknowledge queer love and give it the same level of respect as heterosexual relationships.
Margarita with a Straw (2014)
Laila is like any other young adult: She writes lyrics and composes music for a band; she is eager to move abroad and go to university; she falls headlong in love, lust and everything in between. She also has cerebral palsy. Over the course of Margarita with a Straw, Laila audaciously explores her sexual desires and identity, and eventually comes into her own. She is thrown for a loop when she develops an attraction to a blind activist named Khanum, which slowly blossoms into a wholesome romantic relationship. Laila is also intrigued by her classmate Jared, and in a moment of passion, the two have sex. The experience helps Laila realise that she is bisexual, and it is a liberating discovery. The film is tender and messy and real, as Kalki Koechlin brilliantly brings to life Laila’s stubbornness and vulnerability. That this film was made in a time when openly queer characters and relationships were far from mainstream in Hindi cinema makes it that much more special.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (2020)
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan follows a familiar narrative of a romance. Kartik Singh (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) and Aman Tripathi (played by Jitendra Kumar) find themselves in a struggle to defend their relationship — mostly because Aman is in the closet while Kartik is out and about (pun intended). The film explores the societal debate around their sexuality and challenges the notion that being gay is a choice. Directed by debutant Hitesh Kewalya, the film cleverly draws parallels between same-sex and heterosexual couples, consistently emphasising the normalcy of being gay. Using a genetically modified cauliflower as an analogy, Kewalya illustrates the potential harm of altering the inherent nature of things. In the end, we see the landmark verdict that decriminalised homosexuality in India. Ultimately in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, love wins.
Badhaai Do (2022)
The film follows the story of Shardul Thakur (Rajkummar Rao), a closeted gay cop and Sumi Singh (Bhumi Pednekar), a lesbian school teacher, who get married to assuage the anxieties of their respective families. The arrangement, referred to as lavender marriage, does not uncomplicate matters. Their families are as interfering as ever and soon enough, the couple are exhausted by the facade they must keep up. Sumi is also in love with Rimjhim (Chum Darang), with whom she wants to have a long-term relationship, and she longs to be a mother. The film reckons with how herculean it is to be visibly queer, even if your notions of love are traditional. It also brings to the fore the aspect of how communities for queer folks have to be cultivated outside of their familial network. In the end, Shardul, Rimjhim and Sumi end up adopting a child, and decide to co-parent. It is transgressive because of how it imagines parenthood, even as it outlines the sad reality of a system that only gives preference to heterosexual couples for adoption.
Modern Love: Mumbai (2022)
Hansal Mehta's short film Baai is a simple love story between a chef, Rajveer (played charmingly by Ranveer Brar) and a singer, Manzar "Manzu" Ali (an earnest Pratik Gandhi). It manages to weave important cultural context into its narrative. The film draws parallels between religious and sexual marginalisation in a country like ours – one that still has to deal with bigotry on every level. Manzu and Rajveer's love story is one we champion (despite the film’s unconvincing attempts at creating chemistry between the duo). In the face of challenges, Manzu and Rajveer carve out their own 'happily ever after'— a celebration of their love, which, though lacking legal recognition for now, refuses to be any less beautiful.
For many, Dhruv and Faruq’s love story was the undisputed highlight of Netflix’s Class, the Indian remake of the popular Spanish drama series Elite. The stakes are high — the boys are divided by class and religion in an intensely homophobic society — and yet they fall in love anyway. Dhruv is the closeted son of the school principal, whose swimming coach father is constantly pushing him to be a top athlete. Faruq, whose family have moved to Delhi from Kashmir, has big dreams and little means. He sells drugs on the side, which is how he first meets Dhruv. There is instant chemistry, and before they know it, the boys lose themselves in clandestine meetings amidst the city's ancient monuments. The uninhibited expression of young, queer joy is as charming as it is refreshing. Even though the two characters are ultimately beaten down by their circumstances, theirs is a love that transcends labels and stigma.