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Bollywood 101: Not-So-Straight Hindi Cinema

6 LGBTQ+ Bollywood films that you need to watch

By Entertainment, Featured

For almost a century, Bollywood has been producing films for heterosexual audiences. There is hardly any queer representation in Hindi cinema, and frankly, it’s not surprising. Straight people have always dominated the industry both on screen and behind the camera. And often when there has been queer representation, it has happened at the cost of queer characters, who have been stereotyped and victimized in the movies.

But there is a silver lining. Some mainstream Bollywood films have explored queer characters, representing them as dynamic and complex individuals who are beyond their sexuality and queerness.

Here’s a small curated list of recent mainstream Hindi movies where Bollywood did queer representation right. These stories treat queer characters with kindness and empathy which is often missing in real life.

“Margarita with a Straw” (2014)

‘Margarita with a Straw’ (2014)

“Margarita with a Straw” was the first Bollywood movie I ever saw where I saw queer characters with disabilities getting represented on screen.

Directed by Shonali Bhose, the film tells the story of Laila (Kalki Koechlin), a young Indian girl with cerebral palsy who moves to New York for a semester. There she meets another South Asian student, Khanum (Sayani Gupta), and develops feelings for her.

Throughout the film, Laila explores her own bisexuality and navigates her relationship with her mother, who doesn’t accept her sexuality. Watch this film for an inspiring story of self-exploration and self-love.

Where to watch: Roku

“Aligarh” (2015)

Aligarh’ (2015)

In 2010, Professor Ramchandra Srinvas Siras was suspended from India’s Aligarh University after an intimate video of him with another man was published by a local television station without his consent. The university cited his “gross misconduct” for the suspension.

Isn’t that shocking to even hear?

Hansal Mehta delves into how the incident affected Siras. With “Aligarh,” Hansal Mehtabrings portrays a heartfelt fictional retelling of Siras’ story and the aftermath of what he went through. There are a lot of emotions you will experience in the film as we see Siras face the challenges he faces just for being gay. It’s a powerful story that needs to be seen so we can all reflect on whether the world has become a better place for LGBTQ+ people.

Where to watch: Rent on AppleTV, Google Play, or YouTube.

“Kapoor & Sons” (2016)

‘Kapoor & Sons’ (2016)The story of a dysfunctional family on the brink of collapse. Directed by Shakun Batra, “Kapoor and Sons” is not your typical movie. No one in the movie — the main characters or the supporting ones – are good people. They are morally ambiguous and full of secrets. The only thing waiting for them is an incident that will blow them all up.

In all this mess, lies a significant depiction of a queer character. I can’t reveal who that person is because it would spoil the movie, but the way the director, Shakun Batra, treats him is groundbreaking. The movie never isolates the character. His queerness isn’t his whole identity. It’s a part, a fragment of him. He is more than just a gay man. And that’s what we want the world to do. To treat us as a dynamic individual who just happens to be queer.

Where to watch: Netflix and Amazon Prime, or you can rent it on AppleTV, YouTube, and Google Play.

“Geeli Pucchi” (2021)

‘Geeli Pucchi’ (2021)

Most South Asian communities generally have an institutionalized caste system. Deeply rooted in the social fabric, a person’s caste determines their access to resources and how they are treated in society. On the lowest rung of this system is the Dalit community, which is discriminated against by all other castes. And within the Dalit Community are the Dalit queers who are marginalized by their group.
Exploring the struggles of Dalit queer women, and how queerness and caste intersect is a fictional short film “Geeli Puchi” which is the second movie of the anthology, “Ajeeb Daastaans.” Directed by Niraj Ghawyan, a Dalit filmmaker, this short film depicts the inherent biases that exist in queer communities and how some of us are more equal than others. A powerful tale that you shouldn’t miss to understand the intersectionalities with the queer community.

Where to watch: Netflix

“Badhaai Do” (2022)

‘Badhaai Do’ (2022)

Led by outstanding actors Rajkumar Rao and Bhumi Pednekar, “Badhaai Do” touches on several pertinent issues that reflect Indian society and its deep commitment to patriarchy and heterosexuality.

Shardul, played by Rao, is a gay police officer. His family wants him to get married. So he comes up with a plan. He finds Sumi, (played by Pednekar, a lesbian, and they get married with an arrangement that they can pursue their own interests privately.
But will this arrangement work? Will their parents ever find out that their children are actually gay?

Go and watch this comedy of errors that has laugh-out-loud moments with some emotional scenes that bring out the human in most of us.

Where to watch: Netflix

“Khufiya” (2023)

‘Khufiya’ (2023)

No one can deny that Tabu is one of the greatest living actors Bollywood has seen. In a career spanning almost three decades, she has played various roles on-screen — a conniving woman in “Haider,” an immigrant woman torn between finding her own identity and homely duties in “Namesake,” and a wicked villain in “Andhadhun.”

But I think one of her most remarkable roles that will go down in history is how poignantly she played a spy in Vishal Bhadrawaj’s “Khufiya.”

What really makes her performance outstanding is the emotions of restraint she portrays in the movie while playing a spy who loses her lover because of her job.

There’s this deep sadness in her eyes throughout the movie that will resonate with a wider audience as we have gone through similar experiences — losing our loved ones due to circumstances beyond our control. The longing thus becomes symbolic as it represents not only a physical loss but also a loss of self which many queer people go through.

Where to watch: Netflix

Ankit Khadgi (MAVCS 2024) is a Nepali journalist based in Chicago. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Guardian, the Kathmandu Post, and the Gaysi Family.
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