We’re right in the middle of Pride Month and although everything with a face in the digital landscape is bathed in rainbow colours, let’s be honest here: queer representation in the Indian media is still shockingly low and largely inaccurate.
Recently, however, filmmakers are seen pushing the envelope and breaking out of the archaic and normative trends of misrepresentation. Although Bollywood is on a slow uphill climb, there are films beyond the Hindi Industry that have been hailed for sensitive and accurate portrayals of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Here are 5 Indian Regional films you should watch during this Pride Month:
1. Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish (2012, Bengali)
Directed by one of the most eminent filmmakers and queer voices of India, the late Rituparno Ghosh’s retelling of Rabindranath Tagore’s 'Chitrangada' is an unforgettable watch. While the plot ostensibly revolves around a genderqueer choreographer, Rudra and their partner, Partho attempting to adopt a child but failing to do so by law; it goes beyond that. Through Rudra’s decision to undergo a Gender-Affirming Surgery, the film explores nuances of gender roles, social constructs and the relationship trans and genderqueer people share with their anatomies.
Beautifully framed and lit, its powerful imagery remains unmatched. However, what shines the brightest is Ghosh in all their glory, as both director and actor. Their highly personal portrayal is what makes the film both reflective and reflexive.
2. Eṉ Makaṉ Makiḻvaṉ / My Son Is Gay (2017, Tamil)
Starring Anupama Kumar and Ashwinjith, Lokesh Kumar’s Eṉ Makaṉ Makiḻvaṉ is a moving tale of identity and acceptance. Laxmi is a strict school principal whose life turns upside down when her son, Varun comes out as gay. The film traces her journey from ignorance to acceptance whilst throwing light on the struggles of a gay man in a heteronormative society.
Santhan Anebajagane’s soulful music is noteworthy. Through an emotional and compelling screenplay, the film successfully throws light on queer relationships, social stigma, familial acceptance and other nuances that are inherent to the LGBTQIA+ community.
3. Nagarkirtan (2017, Bengali)
Directed by Kaushik Ganguly, Nagarkirtan is a National Award-winning emblem for trans representation in Bengali Cinema. It follows the tender relationship between a young transgender woman, Puti, and a cisgender man, Madhu as the former navigates through her struggle for a Gender Affirming Surgery. Portrayals of both queer love and transphobic violence strike a fine balance and make this film an essential one.
Stellar performances by Ritwick Chakraborty and Riddhi Sen, coupled with Sirsha Roy’s cinematography contributes to the eclectic visual treatment. Most importantly, the harrowing ending holds up a mirror to the countless ostracisation that trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming Indians face on a regular basis, sometimes even from within the community.
4. Moothon (Malayalam, 2019)
Even though Kerala went down in history for being the first Indian state to have trans-inclusive legislation, Malayalam Cinema has seldom been kind to the LGBTQIA+ community. This makes Geethu Mohandas’ Moothon an even more essential film for its depiction of varied queer experiences. The film follows a genderfluid teenager, Mulla (Sanjana Dipu) as they embark on a quest to look for their elder brother, Akbar (Navin Pauly).
The film is both visually sound and layered in its narrative capacity but what stands out is the complex portrayal of Akbar. The depiction of his intense desire and heartbreak is a visceral portrayal of queer love. Even tertiary characters like Latheef spotlight the daily discrimination and trauma that trans Indians face. The variously layered depictions make Moothon one of the most poetic films on queerness.
5. Naanu Ladies (Kannada, 2021)
Considered as Kannada’s first film on lesbian love, queer filmmaker Shailaja Padindala’s Naanu Ladies is as refreshing as it is crucial. The award-winning film is centered on a blooming relationship between an aspiring actor, Anita and a budding painter, Padma. Beautifully shot and crisply edited, the film quickly became a favourite in film festivals, both nationally and globally.
Juxtaposed against Anita and Padma’s passionate relationship is the hard-hitting reality of a middle-class family. The protagonists not only fight against the prejudice and homophobia within their families but also struggle to survive as artists in a cut-throat society. The filmmaker deftly puts forth a poignant question: Is love enough? Naanu Ladies is an important film that urges the audience to rethink normative structures of family, parenting and education.