10 Movies And Shows To Stream This Pride Month, Film Companion
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Pride Month, if nothing else, gives us the excuse and impetus to dive deep into the LGBTQ genre, much like a retrospective for filmmakers gives people an excuse to delve into their movies. It opens up discussions of what “Queer Cinema” means — Is it just like straight stories but with queer characters? What is the unique joy, angst, and sexual intrigue queer characters bring to a story?

Queer storytelling, in India, is at a very different place today than it was 10 years ago. A lot of it has to do with the streaming revolution. Amazon Prime Video’s most coveted shows, Made In Heaven and Four More Shots Please, tackled homosexualtiy head-on. Netflix’s Sacred Games put trans representation on the shaky commercial forefront. ALT Balaji, over the course of this year, has put out two big shows —  His Storyy dealing with a married man who decides to come out late into his marriage, and The Married Woman, where the post-1992, politically fraught Delhi gives a housewife’s longings for a woman an additional veneer of tension. 

Also Read: The Ga(y)ze: Re-imagining Friendship In Bollywood Movies

While a lot of the oft-highlighted queer movies are headlined and promoted commercially by stars, like Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan on Amazon Prime Video, and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga on Netflix, or Aligarh on Zee5, or even the much maligned Laxmmi on Disney+Hotstar, a lot also slips under the cultural radar. 

This watchlist is an attempt to look at a mixed bag of movies and shows that really got queer joy, queer sex, queer pain right. 

Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo 

Streaming Platform: MUBI (For June 2021)

The film begins with a gratifying 20 minute scene in a gay sex club, but under the nurturing directorial gaze of Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, the film’s emotional heft takes over, and it becomes a gut-emptying tale of urban loneliness, longing, love, lust, and disease. In the shadow of the AIDS epidemic, desire and disease have had an uneasy relationship with each other, and this film shakes up that tension with erotic extravagance. 

Chuppan Chupai (Hide and Seek)

Streaming Platform: MUBI

Saadat Munir and Saad Khan’s documentary follows a cast of queer characters — trans women (they refer to themselves as khwaja-sara, a cultural identity, not just a sexual or genderd one), gay men, and bar dancers who struggle to make ends meet in contemporary Pakistan. The tragic circumstances are foregrounded instead by the relentless joy that these characters feel and affirm. At one point, one of the boys speaks of how he was raped by his uncle, and then he laughs at the camera, noting how his uncle is actually standing behind them, spying on them, looking warily at him. It reminded me of something the academic Brian Horton told me while describing his thesis that mined for queer joy, “What are queer people doing when they’re not suffering?”

10 Movies And Shows To Stream This Pride Month, Film Companion

Please Like Me

Streaming Platform: Netflix

Josh Thomas’ comedy-drama, 4-seasons strong, takes apart trauma and vulnerability with humour that isn’t reductive, derisive or gratuitous. Josh, the central character, is gay and his various sexual escapades on quick-sex apps or the longing aftermaths, pepper the story that follows not him necessarily, but his world. In the first episode, he kisses a boy for the first time (He notes, “I think I’ll miss vaginas,” in his pointed, nasal Australian accent.) He also finds out that his mother attempted suicide. The show cobbles along in this bittersweet seesawing. 

Bulbul Can Sing

Streaming Platform: Netflix

There comes a time when you grow from the innocence of childhood to the tensions of teenagehood, where suddenly, desire is felt and discussed with an urgent density. Sexuality, gender norms, gender expectations calcify with an insufferable rigidity. Bulbul Can Sing, Rima Das’ follow up to the tender and rooted Village Rockstars continues to follow the three friends — two girls, one boy — as they come into their own, slashed by society’s stares, built by the affectionate shoulders of friends and lovers. 

10 Movies And Shows To Stream This Pride Month, Film Companion

Dedh Ishqiya

Streaming Platform: Amazon Prime Video

Abhishek Chaubey’s baroque masterpiece is not, at first glance, remotely queer. Set around the mushairas where love, mostly hereosexual, expresses itself in perfumed prose, the film poses its intentions differently. Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi play women who stroke the passions of Babban (Arshad Warsi) and Khalujan (Naseeruddin Shah). But the story twists the female companionship into something so profoundly, so subtly queer, that all that seemed missing was the big kiss to seal the story shut. 

LOEV

Streaming Platform: Netflix

Homegrown queer cinema that stung without the accompanying melodrama, Sudhanshu Saria’s film takes affection and attraction and pushes it to its most logical, crude extreme. It follows two childhood friends, played by the late Dhruv Ganesh and Shiv Panditt, who set off on a weekend trip to the Ghats where feelings simmer, till the complicated tether snaps. Lurking under the drama is the subtle tug-and-shove of a mundane gay relationship that opens the film — the resentments, kindnesses, annoyance and affection that goad the love. 

Circus Of Books 

Streaming Platform: Netflix

This documentary follows the two aged owners of ‘Circus of Books’, a bookstore and gay pornography shop in West Hollywood, California. The owners’ daughter, Rachel Mason, an artist, musician, and filmmaker, directed and produced this loving documentary about how a conservative Jewish couple, Mason’s parents, created a safe space for cruising and community. (One of the owners notes, “So this guy here, Handjobs magazine, just stopped publishing. Now, he does organic chicken farming.”) It’s also an elegy to a time replaced by the sting-sound notifications of Grindr, excising from sex, the communal quality.The bookstore shut down in 2019. 

The Gay and Wondrous Life of Caleb Gallo 

Streaming Platform: YouTube

Usually shows on free streaming platforms have an easy quality, like the punch-drunk Dinette or the relentlessly sexual Hunting Season. The Gay And Wondrous Life Of Caleb Gallo is just that, with such quick-witted quirk, and sure-footed transgressions, it is hard to not be charmed by its chaotic, oddball cast of gender-fluid vain queens, “fresh” bisexuals, and confused yet confident heterosexuals. (“Ya, I am fucking other guys,” Caleb says on the phone to his best friend after noting how he is in love with his straight friend while also preparing to Facetime his British sort-of boyfriend.)

10 Movies And Shows To Stream This Pride Month, Film Companion

Looking

Streaming Platform: Disney+Hotstar

HBO’s first gay show, and one of American television’s only gay shows, was as celebrated as it was criticized — too milquetoast, too white. It ran for two seasons,  Following a gaggle of gays in slowly gentrifying San Francisco, each becoming part of the friend circle through gym, sex, or platonic companionship, the show has a range of interesting side characters that attempts a diversity it failed in its main casting — the HIV positive bear, the Mexican hairdresser, the Black lawyer and artist, and an ageing florist. The show hones in on the unique sexual stresses of queer life — cruising, promiscuity, and open relationships — while also front-centering the universal dilemma of jealousy. 

All About My Mother

Streaming Platform: Disney+Hotstar

On par with Call Me By Your Name, streaming on Netflix, Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain And Glory was one of the most wrenching and languorous stagings of queer desire. (That scene where the young boy faints with a heat stroke, seeing the Adonis-like naked beauty of a man, is one of the most potent representations of the first time one ever felt desire.) Almodóvar’s 1999 comedy-drama, with a similar quirk intensity, deals with the profound themes of parenting, AIDS, and sex work with such candid, witty humour, in his trademark candy-coloured frames — it’s irresestably sexy, and even more so on repeat viewing.

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