12 Courageous Indian Films That Portrayed Characters From The LGBTQ Community

Bollywood movies aren’t the best at portraying LGBTQ characters…

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Bollywood, thy name has never been ‘sensitivity’. Which is why there aren’t really too many valid representations of LGBTQ characters in mainstream cinema.

What there is plenty of, however, is sassy gay men running around in vivid colours who are perfectly alright with their sexuality being the butt of every poorly framed joke in the room.

But a little exploration beyond 100-crore blockbusters leads us to a treasure trove of films that treat the people of this community the way they are meant to be treated, like people.

#1 Ardhanaari

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A Malayalam film directed by Santhosh Souparnika, it derives its name from Ardhanarishvara, the half male half female Hindu god.

It follows the life of Vinayan, a man who identifies as female which leads to ridicule from his family. The actor who played him, Manoj K Jayan was greatly praised for his sensitive portrayal of a eunuch in Kerala. It even earned him a Filmfare nomination for best actor.

#2 Mango Souffle

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Celebrated playwright Mahesh Dattani was the man behind the script and camera for this film. Based on Dattani’s play On a Muggy Night in Mumbai, the film follows Kamlesh, a gay fashion designer and an eventful night following his break-up.

The play was highly successful, touring all over India and even being staged off-Broadway. The film safe to say does it full justice.

#3 My Brother Nikhil

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One of the more popular offerings to deal with the portrayal of gay characters, Juhi Chawla and Sanjay Suri killed in two memorable performances as the prodigal son Nikhil and his sister.

The film dealt with the controversial Goa Public Health Act, which allowed people suffering from AIDS to be kept in isolation and the director Onir said that the film’s “fictional” tag was a part of the compromise he made to get it released. The movie is based on real-life AIDS activist Dominic d’Souza.

#4 Ka Bodyscapes

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Ka Body features no background music, it is quiet and keeps its entire focus on the harrowing story of love and equality in Kerala, a state is often seen as India’s most progressive.

The movie is good at leading you to anger, constantly questioning society and how it has affected our personal morals in times of crises. One of Jayan K Cherian’s best projects, it had a year and a half’s worth of struggle with the CBFC and still hasn’t received a widespread release in India.

#5 Fire

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Deepa Mehta’s fire starred the talented duo of Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, in an adaptation if Ismat Chugtai’s notorious short story, Quilt. The narrative was so scandalizing when first published, Chugtai had to defend herself in Lahore’s court for it.

An exploration of female sexuality and how an arrangement is formed between two women, both ignored by their families and their community at large, the movie has earned its reputation.

#6 Loev

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Loev received a ton of praise for being simply a love story and not one that pandered to audiences with redundant stereotypes.

Written and directed by Sudhanshu Saria, it maps the relationship between musician Sahil and his friend Jai, a Wall Street broker. Loev is messy and confusing as most relationships are and doesn;t stop for a second to give the audience something prissy or unrealistic.

#7 Margarita With A Straw

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Dealing with the sexuality of the differently abled is something that few films ever take on. Margarita With a Straw however, takes it on unapologetically. A cerebral palsy patient discovers the complexities of her sexuality and how it affects her relationship with her mother over time.

The film was screened at multiple festivals including the Busan, Santa Barbara and Istanbul Film Fests.

#8 Bombay Boys

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Released all the way back in 1988, Bombay Boys was way ahead of its time in terms of tone and a lightness that films about LGBTQ characters rarely get in Indian cinema. The film wasn’t received very well because of problematic portrayals of Bombay’s communities.

Surrounding 3 NRIs and their hijinks in Bombay, it’s the character Xerxes who eventually comes to terms with his sexuality thanks to his gay landlord played by the brilliant Roshan Seth.

#9 Arekti Premer Golpo

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Written and directed by Kaushik Ganguly, the film was the first depicting LGBTQ characters to be shot after the decriminalisation of 377.

The film tells two parallel stories, of director Abhiroop Sen and his intimacy with a married man and the transgendered stage performer Chapal Bhaduri and her relationship with Kumar. The films dual storylines are portrayed by the same set of actors, doubling up to draw comparisons with the rejection felt by gay and transgendered men, even from those closest to them.

#10 Memories  In March

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A little more dramatic than necessary, Memories in March is still unique in the way that it shines the spotlight on the bereaved mother instead of her homosexual son. Coming to terms with the secret sexuality of a child that is no longer alive, Arati Mishra eventually learns the facets of her son’s life and moves past her sorrow.

Directed by Sanjoy Nag and starring  Deepti Naval, Rituparno Ghosh and Raima Sen, the film was awarded the Best Feature Film at the 58th National Awards.

#11 Bomgay

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One of the more explicit LGBTQ films, Bomgay is an anthology base do a collection of poems by R Raj Rao.

The movie was made on a budget of 500,000 and many sequences were sot guerilla style. Director  Riyad Vinci Wadia wanted to keep costs down so he tried to secure actors from the gay community, but many were unwilling to openly feature in the film.

The movie’s sex scenes were shot by the crew lying and saying they were shooting a video about ragging.

#12 Aligarh

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Ramchandra Siras became a very important figure for the gay community in India when he won the case against the AMU University at the Allahabad High Court. When two men forcibly entered his home and filmed him having consensual sex with another man, his personal life was dragged into the spotlight and he was fired from his position “on moral grounds”.

Manoj Bajpayee’s lauded performance earned him a Filmfare Critic’s Award for Best Actor.

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