Review: ‘377 Ab Normal’ Beautifully Depicts Desi Queers’ Road to Justice
With these now-famous words, former Chief Justice of India Dipak Mishra partially struck down Section 377 of the IPC, de-criminalising homosexuality.
One verdict, one court’s ruling, one judgment. Suddenly there were fewer ‘criminals’ in the country. That is the crux of Zee5's original feature film, 377 Ab Normal.
Director Faruk Kabir vividly portrays the painful journeys that many members of the LGBTQ community undergo, taking the audience through stories of hardship and harassment – to finally getting justice at the Supreme Court on 6 September 2018.
Today, we’re aware of the Queer community’s victory, but only a few really intimately know the roadblocks they encountered. And what better a medium than cinema to show these, right?
(Viewers are informed at the outset that the movie is a work of fiction based on the case of Navtej Singh Johar & others Vs the Union of India.)
Does 377 Ab Normal Do Justice to a Topic This Sensitive?
I think so, yes.
The film was able to capture the true essence of the years of struggle for the LGBTQ community within its 1-hour-and-33-minutes runtime, without twisting any major events of the original timeline – a movie true to its real story.
We not only see the arguments that went on in the Indian courts, but also get to see the struggles of these five petitioners, who challenged Section 377. The viewers are hooked to this film throughout the back and forth of events.
The first petitioner Arif Zafar runs the 'Bharosa Trust' in Lucknow. The police entered his office and arrested him in broad daylight. He was accused of running a prostitution racket instead of an NGO for the prevention of HIV AIDS. Even in jail, Arif was harassed by other inmates. After getting released, he decided to take the fight of the LGBTQ community to Supreme Court. The film later goes on to tell us the struggles of several other petitioners.
Beautifully Captured Shots
Full credit to the cinematographer. The symbolism in the movie hits you hard – right in the first shot of the film: a lonely pink flower stands out amidst a bunch of yellow flowers. A human different from society is still a human. Another memorable shot would be that of a flock of birds, either shown flying in air or painted on the walls, representing free spirited souls.
377 Ab Normal takes care never to overburden the viewer with information – instead spacing out the judgments and facts evenly.
The movie depicts incidents from as far back as 2001 – when Arif Zafar became the first person in Indian history to be arrested for 'unnatural acts' in Lucknow. We are also shown the story of Keshav, a businessman who decides to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community. All of these individual stories finally culminate in the year 2018 when the Supreme Court decriminalises homosexuality.
Power Packed Performances
The cast, that includes the likes of Sid Makkar, Maanvi Gagroo, Tanvi Azmi, Zeeshan Ayyub, Kumud Mishra and Shashank Arora, wow with their superlative acting skills and convincing dialogue delivery, truly making you feel the emotions. A special shout-out must go out to Zeeshan Ayyub, who won our hearts with his performance as Arif Zafar in the first half of the film. I personally would have liked a little more screen-time for Tanvi Azmi – but even her small role left a major impact.
We are shown the life of two youngsters, Shalmili and Pallav – played sensitively by Maanvi Gagroo and Shashank Arora.
Shalmili’s romance with her college friend Neha has been beautifully shown in the film. They are seen romancing in the parking lot and even while watching a play of Ismat Chughtai in the college auditorium. Both decided to give their love a chance. While in another story, Pallav and his partner face problems as the latter doesn’t want to take a step further, thinking their parents will never accept this relationship. Later, both Shalmili and Pallav decide to come out to their parents.
While Pallav's infuriated father insists on him visiting a counsellor to rid him of this 'disease', Shalmili’s mother – played by Tanvi Azmi, tackles her daughter's confession admirably. Instead of calling it a disease, she expresses her concern that it took her daughter four years to come out to her. She ultimately takes up the baton for her daughter and goes to the courts to file a petition to decriminalise homosexuality.
In an attempt to keep this film as close to reality as possible, we are shown newspaper clippings and television broadcasts of the time – all leading up to the five judges of SC stating their opinions on the case. The moment of the final judgement leaves one with chills – and makes you truly appreciate the wait of the petitioners and the community on that historic day.
Perhaps you're already aware of all the details of the verdict and the petitioners' struggles against Section 377; still, the film is a must-watch if only for the fact that it treated the subject so sensitively.
Kudos to Zee5 for bringing this historically important event to life, in cinema, and here's hoping that others follow suit.