An Indian lesbian love story like no other

An Indian lesbian love story like no other

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Roopa Rao of Just Like That Films has released a lesbian love story called, appropriately enough, The ‘Other’ Love Story on the production house’s YouTube page.

Three episodes are available to watch currently, and the entire series can be downloaded for a price on Revry TV.

Starring Shweta Gupta as Aachal and Spoorthi Gumaste as Aadya, the film is set in the Bangalore of 1990s, a time before the IT boom that converted this sleepy town into a bustling metropolis.

The two college-going girls live in a middle-class colony and in the three episodes available so far, we have been given only a hint of their budding romance.

The unhurried pace of the screenplay is a welcome departure from the sensationalism that the topic of gayness is normally couched in on Indian television.

Last year, MTV dedicated an episode of its relationship series The Big F to a lesbian romance. While well-intentioned, the episode suffered from poor acting and a too-quick resolution of dramatic conflict arising out of the central character’s gayness.

In contrast, The ‘Other’ Love Story is a 108-minute miniseries spread across 12 episodes. That alone makes it a first. But it also pays homage to a time when India – even its metros – was a different country.

From children playing roadside games in narrow alleys to hawkers plying their trade, the series looks and feels delightfully old-school.

To situate a lesbian romance in this time may seem an act of courage but it also refreshingly brings out the pervasiveness of homosexuality.

To critics who are wont to blame “Western influence” for the presence of homosexuality in India, a lesbian romance set inside small rooms that open into the street and on staircases that are shared with neighbours serves an august lesson.

There are other subtle nods to egalitarianism. As with the Anouk ad from last year, Aadya and Aachal too are from different parts of the country. Aachal speaks Hindi at home; Aadya is a Kannadiga, and it is a fascinating fact of Bangalore, worth underlining at a time of riots over water sharing with another state, that this city has had a history of “outsiders” settling and making lives here.

As love stories go, The ‘Other’ Love Story is strikingly conservative, if that label can be applied to a gay romance. Aadya is a lost soul who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Aachal, who is the more open of the two, and who, I suspect, will be more comfortable giving voice to her feelings as the series moves forward.

This dichotomy, of one person being aware of their feelings while the other is gradually introduced to them, is a common enough feature of gay dramas.

In some ways, it lends an organic frisson to the story – how much more intense a love that did not know it could happen. But it also gives the lie to the experience of most gays I know.

Love is often searched with a vengeance that makes its serendipitous occurrence, its ability to introduce the person at its centre to other, hitherto-unknown dimensions of sexuality a near impossibility.

The gay experience is one of waiting. It rarely affords its recipient the hurrahs of sudden, straight love.

Be that as it may, The ‘Other’ Love Story is chugging along nicely. The series is in flashback. We meet Aachal and her family at the railway station as she prepares to board a train to Mumbai from where she will fly to the US.

There is tension in the air – Aachal is being sent off against her wishes, and as the series takes us into the past, our best guess for now is that her departure has something to do with her relationship with Aadya.

Gay characters on Indian TV, like gays in the real India, will have to live out the entire gamut of expectation from a straight society before we can come into our own.

On screen, this would mean showing homosexuality as something that is discovered and cultivated with a special someone, in special circumstances.

Sexuality does not work that way, but if such representations, dipped in pain and grief as they will undoubtedly be, can make us visible to the vast, non-minuscule majority that surrounds us, perhaps we will reach a time when we can show other kinds of stories too.

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