Forbidden Love is a four-part romantic-thriller anthology that seeks to highlight the immoral consequences of forbidden, but moral, love. The first, Arranged Marriage on homosexuality, directed by Pradeep Sarkar, and the second, Anamika, on adultery, directed by Priyadarshan are streaming on Zee5. The other two directed Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, and Mahesh Manjrekar will premiere on the platform on September 24.
Arranged Marriage is awkward in its activism. A story of gay love, between Dev (Ali Fazal) and Neel (Omkar Kapoor), the latter is coerced into marriage with the former’s cousin Keya (Patralekha Paul). Keya and Dev share a resentful, militant relationship. Keya soon realizes something is wrong, when three months into the marriage her husband isn’t willing and thus able to get-it-up with her at night. She enlists the help of both the “traditional” (tantrics and sex-workers) and the “modern” (London educated psychiatrists who treat homosexuality as a disease). Her capacious mind accepts both, the dripping of pigeon blood over her head, and medical tirades against homosexuality that the doctor thinks can be treated with chemicals and electric shocks (It can’t, just so we are clear.) The film ends with quotes from the 2018 Supreme Court Verdict reading down Section 377 that criminalized sexual activities “against the order of nature” i.e gay sex.
Ali Fazal’s undeniably awkward charm around gay men was displayed for all in Netflix’s reality show What The Love when he goes on a date with the show’s token gay representation. This charm here is overpowered by his rudderless gait- all he seems to do is get laid and complain, get drunk and copiously smoke. He doesn’t seem to have either job or direction. Even joy comes sparingly. Keya’s anxiety is palpable, and Paul is able to bring some amount of empathy-hate to this character, but there’s just such bizarre characterization that her desperation to claw her husband in desire is just painfully shrill. When the story isn’t balking in its obviousness, it’s awkward- the conversation between lovers peppered liberally with “baby” is quite cloying in its artifice. I wonder if Sarkar hasn’t got the memo of Naturalism- having two characters say “I love you, baby” to each other is not enough to show that two characters are in love. This jars more so because the production design is so emphatic in its natural lived-in Kolkata-ness- there’s something immersive in this universe that the story just fails to milk.
Anamika the second film in this anthology makes the case for adultery. The titular character played by Pooja Kumar lives in Pondicherry with a husband who doesn’t listen and a father-in-law who can’t listen- he’s deaf. A cashier at a bakery, she finds joy in one of her customers, Ishaan (Aditya Seal), a stone-faced Kangra valley boy who is in Pondi to study.
Anamika much like Pooja Kumar’s voice is high-pitch low-volume. (It reminded me of Sri Devi’s voice) The film says hefty things with shrill obviousness, but stages it with such watered down conviction, you just can’t bring yourself to like or empathize with a single character. With no one to root for, except Seal’s oft-unveiled abs, the film sputters before its finale that is at once random, and despite its shocking nature, without impact.
Just a note about the climax of the two films; this paragraph will contain spoilers. Both films make the case for gay love and adultery as moral choices given the circumstances, but with immoral consequences. In the first film Keya dies of electrocution on the chair where shock therapy is given. In the second Anamika finds out that Ishaan, whom she wants to run away with, is a terrorist, whose bomb smashed the bakery she works at to smithereens. Both climaxes are staged with ample artifice and so it is just registered as another fact, shocking in nature, not impact. Additionally, pursuing both- adultery and homosexuality- causes pain to someone else- the wife of the gay man, and the husband of the adultress. But both these “wronged” characters are so badly written, as unloving and uncaring, or as shrill, and ignorant, that the choice to leave them hanging isn’t seen as a “bad” thing, at least that’s not how I felt. By making the narrative so flat in its complexity, the moral heft of the argument doesn’t register. There’s no catharsis, and this might be a function of the 45 minute length, though I fear some ineptitude in the writing and directing is also to blame.The point of these films, if there was even one, gets lost in this reverse engineered din. There’s no feeling, no fatalism, no fractiousness. Hell, even the sex looks limp.