PAULA MARKOW WRITES– Outfest Fusion, a film festival that showcases the LGBTQ community, ran from March 1 to 5 at the Chinese Theatre, offering an array of short films. One segment that caught my attention was a series of shorts about the LGBT community in India.
The first short, Yaman, directed by Raghuvir Joshi, shows a woman leaving behind her happy but at best average marriage. She hopes to find someone else great one day— except this time it would be a woman. Having discovered the truth about her sexuality– she’s gay—she pursues her dream despite the conservative state of affairs on this issue that largely dominates India. A woman, especially a married one, coming out as part of the LGBTQ community can be seen as a social pariah and an anti-religious citizen.
The second short, Becoming Leela, directed by AJ, tackles sexuality and youth. A young Indian high school girl becomes attached to a girl from her neighborhood/school, eventually falling deeply in love. The two make elaborate plans to attend college together in Toronto and eventually share a place to live; all the while her family presumes the two to be just best friends. This picturesque portrayal of innocent young love and purity is both stunning and nostalgic with regard to the social norms that have suffocated them as they attempt to be true to themselves.
Leela’s mom is a traditional matriarch, making Leela wear dresses and keep her hair long– all of which Leela does not want to do. A crucial scene shows deep-rooted cultural biases; Leela’s mother walks in on the girls about to kiss but ignores it, pretending as though she saw nothing – choosing to live in denial. The film takes is a must-watch for adolescents.
Number three is called Homestay, directed by Priyanka Mattoo. This short has a comedic tone as it follows the life of an old couple visiting their son abroad and staying at an Airbnb owned by a gay man. The initially traditional Indian couple, having first held in disdain the obviously gay man, end up loving him as their own son . The dialogue focuses on the differences between Indian and American cultures, ultimately showing that people can transcend cultural biases.
Leela is filled with funny one-liners, ncluding my favorite: Says an Indian woman to her husband: “We are so close we finish each other’s…?”
I cracked up at that one.
Monogamish, directed by Nardeep Khurmihad, has a slightly more intense tone. It focuses on a bisexual man engaged in two open relationships. During the Q&A following the screening, Khurmihad talked about his personal inspiration in writing this movie as he too does not believe in or practice monogamy.
Decoding Dark Matter, by Crystal Waterton, is a documentary presenting a different thematic angle: trans folk in the country, who have been incredibly visible in India for centuries. The film discusses common misconceptions about the LGBTQ community (i.e. gender vs. gender expression, sexuality vs. gender, etc.), narrowing in on two main characters who are trans comedians touring together. Through the movie they speak about their tumultuous past, including suicide attempts and lacking father figures.
Last but not least (however, definitely with the least dialogue), was Sisak, directed by Sizak Faraz Ansari. On a subway, two men feel a forbidden yet mutual attraction towards one another. The film is delicate and soft, capturing the essence of their initial attraction–playful, nervous, and excited. The two continue to see one another at the subway station but never interact. One day they bump into each other again, and finally touch the same railing, so that their hands meet.
This selection of films provided a rich compilation of insights into the LGBTQ community in India, the largest democracy in the world. Overall the festival’s message was clear: Despite issues related to culture and age, love is love. It knows none of those long-established barriers.