We Indians cringe so much when we see heterosexual couples kissing on screen. At the same time, movies with queer content are even rarer. It requires courage to see movies, just as it requires courage to make them and act in them. I had been interested in watching ‘Ek Ladki ko Dekha to Esa Laga’ when it came to one cinema hall (located in a mall) in my town, but couldn’t muster courage. Finally when I did, and begged my mom to come along (without telling her about it) with me to the cinema hall, the movie had already left and another movie was in its place!
This time, I decided, it was necessary to take the matters in my hand and strike the iron while it was still hot. I had been watching the trailer, multiple reaction videos and a few interviews of the lead actors on Youtube. Most desi rainbow pages and groups on facebook were discussing the movie. The anticipation was therefore too intense. At the same time, the holy hindu festival of Shivratri was around the corner. Lord Shiva is the Hindu god of Destruction and Regeneration and is one of the trinity gods in the Hindu pantheon, worshipped by the queer and trans communities.
I recalled the day I had first met my ex boyfriend face to face on one such Shivratri many years ago, after chatting for days in a chatroom online. At that time, I had no awareness of my queerness. He turned out to be a total asshole who tried his hardest to stamp out my ‘masculine tendencies and traits’. I wanted this Shivratri to be a far better one, a good memory replacing the earlier sad one.
I went to work and left early, keeping an eye on the clock. I could not watch the first show- it was time to try my luck at the second one. This time, I decided, I would watch the movie alone! I am still in the closet. My parents do not let me travel anywhere without permission. I would be asked million questions and by the time I got permission, it would be too late.
As I marched to the ticket counter, I could not stop myself from watching around the mall. I was anxious about somebody familiar recognizing me – but most people were strangers. As I was watching the movie on my own, sans a chaperone, it felt reassuring to see some teen girls and a few older women also booking tickets to see the movie. Ticket in hand, I climbed up the stairs in the mall, till I reached 5th floor, panting hard. The guards guided me to a particular auditorium and I walked inside.
The movie began just as I scanned around for my seat. While it was dark and the carpeted aisles were lighted only via fluorescent stripes, I could not help seeing that 80 % of the seats were empty. I sat down and immediately got sucked into the story. In the interval, I telephoned my family members about my presence in the mall, was scolded and warned of two legged predators, and lambasted for sneaking ‘like a thief to enjoy a movie all alone’. Once the movie ended, I walked home, anticipating being grounded. To my relief, no brickbats were flying in my direction.
The movie is full of sub plots. With cheesy one lines and witty dialogues, SMZS stands out a class apart. However it seems tiresome to be reminded of famous lines of Bollywood and Hollywood movies again and again throughout the movie. While Kartik (played by Ayushmann Khurrana) declares that ‘my sexuality is mine alone, not yours’ and collapses thereafter, I could not help feel that the lines would have been better uttered in Hindi and thereby giving it a desi feeling, instead of being said in English and thereby making it seem like a western import. Aman’s (played by Jitendra Kumar) cousin brother spouting ‘ being gay is not sickness’ ‘there is a spectrum in gender and sexuality’, quoting straight from tablet based google searches, felt very rushed and copy-pasted. Those lines could have been delivered far better with more emotions. Moreover Kartik seems hardly believable as the son of a blacksmith.
SMZS has certain strengths as well. It can be a good conversation starter for anyone who wishes to come out of closet (I recall seeing certain youtube comments). Aman and Kartik’s love story could succeed because of multiple reasons – one of them being Supreme Court of India decriminalizing homosexuality. The length to which a family patriarch could go in order to hush matters surrounding his son, the pressure exerted by the women inside the house, the emotional blackmail and gaslighting – all of it are a stark reminder of the darkness hidden behind the façade of ‘good Indian families’.
As Shankar Tripathy, father of Aman, tells his wife Sunaina, “we are neither good people nor bad people. We are just people.”, SMZS sends a beacon across the dark seas, sprinkling a spoonful of comedy and spices to the mantle of queer activism.
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