If you go back a few years, you would have seen queer characters in Indian movies as caricatures and comic relief. Any representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in previous Indian movies was a token representation with no substance to their characters. But there have been a few movies where the queer community has gotten their due. There have been a lot more realistic characters with authentic storylines. Here are some queer Indian movies to add to your watchlist this Pride Month.
1. Fire (1996)
Fire is an Indo-Canadian movie and one of the earliest mainstream Bollywood movies to feature a queer relationship, that too a lesbian relationship. Starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, Fire, directed by Deepa Mehta, is an adaptation of Ismat Chugtai’s Lihaaf. Sita and Radha are co-sisters, both stuck in loveless marriages. While Sita’s husband is having an affair with an Asian woman, Radha’s husband has suppressed his desires due to the influence of a Swamiji. It leads to both Radha and Sita feeling unloved in their marriages and unable to fulfil their own desires. With time, the two women get closer and seek solace in each other. They become lovers and soon fall in love.
Fire is not just about a lesbian relationship but also points out the importance of physical intimacy in a marriage. While the movie received a lot of flak for the portrayal of an explicit homosexual relationship, it is one that delivers a good story as well as great performances. Fire is a must-watch queer Indian movie.
2. My Brother… Nikhil (2005)
This 2005 movie starring Juhi Chawla, Sanjay Suri, and Purab Kohli in pivotal roles did not just deal with a homosexual relationship but also AIDS. Set in the years 1986 to 1994 in Goa, the movie follows Nikhil Kapoor, a state allrounder swimming champion. He lives in a happy family consisting of his parents and his sister. But things take a turn for the worse when Nikhil is diagnosed with AIDS. He loses his position on the swimming team and is thrown out of the house, and later forcibly quarantined. The only people who stand by him during this time are his sister Anamika and his boyfriend Nigel. Directed by Onir, My Brother… Nikhil is an eye-opener to the exclusion and discrimination that homosexual people and people with AIDS feel. The ostracisation faced by Nikhil is heart-breaking, but this movie also opened a door to making more realistic LGBTQIA+ movies in Indian cinema.
3. Nagarkirtan (2017)
Nagarkirtan is simply put, a lament of a person who breaks down due to the prejudices and taboos prevalent in society. It follows a community of eunuchs, primarily a transwoman, Puti. Born as an intersex man Parimal, all Puti wants is to get a sex reassignment surgery. Nagarkirtan follows the poignant story of Puti, and a flautist, Madhu. Falling in love is easy, but only if you fit societal constraints. This Bengali movie, directed by Kaushik Ganguly, gives you a glimpse of the marginalisation, ostracisation, and exploitation that the trans community faces. And added to all of that are the economic barriers that don’t let a person be who they truly are.
4. Jonaki Porua (2019)
Also known as Fireflies, Jonaki Porua is a 2019 Assamese film directed by Prakash Deka. The movie stars Benjamin Diamary in the lead. Fireflies is one of the few movies that stars a queer person in a queer role. The movie follows Jahnu, who dreams of getting gender-affirming surgery. He is often mocked by the villagers for his femininity, but that doesn’t stop him from expressing himself. Jahnu’s sister Jumu is also a queer woman, but she chooses to stay in the closet to protect her parents’ reputation. Generally, trans characters are marginalised in movies, but here, the director has brought Jahnu to the front and centre and told a realistic story.
5. Moothon (2019)
This 2019 Malayalam movie is commendable for two reasons – first, it delivers a great performance. And second, the movie stars one of the mainstream Malayalam actors – Nivin Pauly. And the reason this is important is because Nivin’s character, Akbar or Bhai, turns out to be queer. Usually, where queer men are shown as feminine or cartoonish, in walks Akbar looking all buff and masculine. Moothon has all the ingredients of a good crime-thriller movie but it also subverts traditional gender representations. Moothon is a crime-drama and a love story at the same time, and both stories are treated quite differently. As gritty as the gangster drama is, the love story is quite tender. It is not just a queer love story but a universal one. Moothon unquestionably deserves a place on your watchlist as one of the best Indian queer movies.