Bollywood recently released its first-ever mainstream film that seriously explores an openly queer person in a same-sex romance. It’s called How I Felt When I Saw That Girl (Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga) and it’s breaking new ground in a country progressing towards LGBTQ rights.
The film sounds massively entertaining. It follows a young Indian woman named Sweety and a man who falls in love with her. But even though Sweety’s family likes him, no one realizes that she’s actually in love with a woman.
A mostly positive review of the film says that in its second half:
The story’s track of a father coming to terms with the sexuality and the suppressed emotions of his daughter is touching. Though a bit theatrical, ‘ELKDTAL’ puts forth a progressive and important conversation around personal feelings and the true liberating nature of love. All of this plays out, in the most fun and entertaining fashion, which in a way is the strength of the movie, too.
In true Bollywood style, there’s a romantic chase, spontaneous singing, dancing and lots of jokes. Despite a few cliched tropes, it respectfully depicts Sweety and her struggle to admit her same-sex attraction.
Sweety is played by well-known Bollywood actress Sonam Kapoor and her father is played by her real-life dad, fellow Bollywood star Anil Kapoor.
Here’s the film’s trailer:
62-year-old female director Chopra Dhar created How I Felt When I Saw That Girl as a way to touch parents of LGBTQ children. She co-wrote the script with a trans woman.
Previous Bollywood depictions of LGBTQ characters have been comedic and offensively stereotyped, reflecting cultural ignorance about same-sex love.
In an interview with Broadly, Dhar said:
In India especially, being the conservative community that it is, people don’t even understand it, let alone accept it. It’s beyond their concept of what love is. They only know love in one way. They don’t understand that love doesn’t require any qualification. It’s not gender-based or caste-based or religion-based. It’s a totally pure emotion above all these things.
Though the film is reportedly performing better overseas rather than in its home country, i’s creation and mainstream distribution are welcome developments for Indian film. Just two years ago, the country’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) banned Jayan Cherian’s film Ka Bodyscapes for “glorifying” homosexuality and the male body.
It’s possible that censors relaxed their bans on same-sex content because last September, India’s Supreme Court overruled section 377, a national law criminalizing same-sex relationships between consenting adults.
Though LGBTQ people can’t donate blood in India and so called “anti-Romeo” vigilante squads sometimes publicly hunt down same-sex couples for extortion and assault, there are still many bright spots for queer equality in India.
India’s first LGBTQ radio show aired earlier [in 2017], a Mumbai LGBTQ parents’ group is slowly gaining members, a 2017 Pride parade in near Bangalore attracted nearly 7,000 attendees, India’s openly gay crown prince announced the opening of an LGBTQ center on royal grounds and a proposed change in the country’s Uniform Civil Code could pave the way for eventual marriage equality.