Pride and Prejudice
By Sachin Chatte
To say that the best thing about a film festival is films is like saying the sky is blue. But there is a larger point to that – at a festival, you get to see films which would never make it to the theatre. With the advent of OTT platforms, some of these films do make it to curated platforms like MUBI, but at the end of the day, nothing compares to the experience of watching a film on the big screen, in the darkness of the theatre.
It is the subject and themes that are portrayed in these films that make them so fascinating. In India, we all have grown up on a staple diet of mainstream cinema, no matter which part of the country you come from. My love for cinema started with watching Amitabh Bachchan weave his magic, back then on a single screen, when the choice of timing was restricted to matinee, first or second show. Many of the mainstream films were pure kitsch and the thing about kitsch is that once you learn to appreciate that kind of cinema, some of it rubs off on you for the rest of your life. For example, Mehul Kumar’s Tiranga (1992) was often screened either on Independence or Republic Day – it is a film that is so bad that I love it. It has a villain called Pralaynath Gendaswamy who, in the climax, tries to launch the fakest looking missiles ever and cause destruction all over India. That is the most fun I have had while watching a terrible film.
This brings me back to festivals and the kind of movies that we get to see. Monday morning started with Suk Suk made by a Hong Kong filmmaker, Ray Yeung. We have seen several films on relationships and the complications that arise with them – we have seen an older man, a younger woman, and vice versa. When it comes to LGBTQIA+ though, the themes have only been partly explored because the subject is still taboo in parts of the world. The gates have opened but only partly.
Suk Suk (2019) aka Twilight’s Kiss is an extremely sensitive portrayal of two elderly men, who are secretly gay – they are both in their 70s and have spent most of their lives fighting to keep it a secret. In the twilight of their life, they still have to struggle because they both have their respective families to deal with. We see the travails they have to go through in making their choices – Pak (Tai Bo) drives a taxi, and has a wife and two grown-up children while Hoi (Ben Yeun) is a divorcee, who lives with his rather strict son and his wife and daughter.
Yeung manages to make us empathize with both the lead characters – you feel for them. Why can’t these two men live peacefully and do what they want to do? Even to go to the market to buy ingredients to cook a meal, they have to make elaborate plans. How much can and should society impose its own-made rules on individuals? As we see them go about their lives, it is also clear that whether the families are religious or not, there is discrimination and stigma which is hard to overcome – needless to say, when religion is involved, the fight becomes that much tougher, as activists around the globe and in India, discovered as well. Hong Kong decriminalized gay sex in 2019, a year after the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 in India.
Back home, when we see an LGBTQIA+ character in cinema, it is mostly for comic effect or to make fun of. A film like Aligarh (2015) is an exception to the rule and Bombay Talkies (2013), the anthology had one story that had some gravitas while there has been the odd regional film that has shown some seriousness in the portrayal.
Badnaam Basti (1971) was one of the earliest films produced that depicted a gay relationship. There was no copy of the film until they found a 35mm print in Berlin, last year. Incidentally, the film was co-produced by Film Finance Corporation, which went on to become the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC).
As it has been often mentioned, cinema plays a huge role in shaping the sensibilities of our society – LGBTQIA+ rights and their acceptance still has to go long way in our country but on the positive side, it is taking baby steps forward and cinema can play an important part in the process.
I certainly didn’t learn anything from Gendaswamy’s missiles but I could feel the pain of Professor Ramchandra Siras in Aligarh and the predicament of Pak and Hoi, the elderly gents in Suk Suk – all thanks to cinema.