Section 377 was read down once and for all by the Supreme Court in September 2018, and while it is too early to say what effect it has had on ground and how has it changed the lives of people, one change that is definitely visible is in the number of web-series and shows that are now incorporating queer themes, or are based on queer stories, be it Amazon’s Made in Heaven, or Bollywood’s Ek Ladki ko Dekha to Aisa Laga.
The latest addition to this list is the movie 377 Ab Normal, which is streaming exclusively on Zee 5, a streaming app like Netflix. In about 90 minutes, the movie tries to capture the entire history of the struggle against 377. But does it succeed?
The movie begins with a shot of a nervous Keshav Suri talking to his lawyer Mukul Rastogi. It moves back and forth in time, to trace the history of the case, instead of just restricting itself to the court room. It also brings forth the personal stories of some of the petitioners in order to show the individual struggles of queer persons.
As arguments open in the Supreme Court against Section 377, the movie takes the viewers back to 2001 in Lucknow, and shows how a young Arif Jafar was imprisoned under Section 377 by the police, and the court case that he loses where in he gets a jail term of 3 years (and this is the only court room battle that is shown in the movie in some detail). It also showcases the harassment and abuse that Arif undergoes inside jail, something that he has talked about in various forums as well. The other people who are portrayed in the movie include a young Pallav Patankar (and his struggle for acceptance from family) and Chitra Palekar and her daughters story.
But as the movie keeps flipping between these stories, it jumps directly to 2009, then 2013 and finally to 2018. While the court cases had dragged for years, and both sides presented a number of arguments, the movie steers clear of it all, only briefly showing the courtroom for the 2018 case. What could have been a very interesting courtroom battle on the screen, becomes a lost opportunity.
There are many other important aspects that this movie misses out. There is no reference to Naz Foundation or Anjali Gopalan, who had actually filed the case in Delhi High Court against Section 377. Similarly, the 2018 verdict of the Supreme Court was for a petition filed by 5 eminent LGBTQ people – Navtej Singh Johar, Sunil Mehra, Ritu Dalmia, Aman Nath and Keshav Suri. However, no reference to anyone except Keshav Suri is made in the movie. Even for Keshav Suri, the movie does not give any background, as to who he is. If one doesn’t already know about him and his role in the 377 petition, it would be hard to know through the movie. There were other petitions too filed in the Supreme Court, including by Akkai Padmashali and a group of IIT students. None of these even find a passing reference in the movie.
Hence, at the end of the 1 and half hours, you are left wondering, why were only these four people and their stories showcased? Why are so many other important details of the 377 struggle and case left out? Above all, for a victory that was won through court battles, why does the movie not build up on the court room drama?
While it is understandable that it will be impossible to capture a 20 year struggle in under 2 hours, one does expect that the makers capture the battle in a little more detail, so that it does not look like a rushed up job. While 377 Ab Normal is the first movie to have been made on this historic case, that too within 6 months; one hopes that more such movies and shows (probably a series?) come out in the future that will be able to do proper justice to the efforts of so many different individuals and collectives that have contributed to the victory.