There was a time, not that long ago, when smartphones were not an extension of our personality. Grindr—the dating app created for the queer community—didn’t buzz with excitement in the pockets of most Indian queer men then. Believe it or not, gay men in India had to look for other ways to be near each other. Before queer men took the dating game online, they almost exclusively relied on cruising — searching for sex, love or both in public places.
Most of these cruising spots were, and still are, unfrequented parks. But in metropolitan cities, especially Mumbai and Delhi, the anonymity of public transport is what closeted gay men rely on. In Delhi, it was the last compartment of the metro and in Mumbai, it was the 2 by 2 compartment of the local train.
That is where the premise of Sisak lies. Two men travel in the Mumbai local, each trying to deal with his sexuality and the burden of having to remain silent about it. The older man looks around nervously, fiddling with his wedding ring, while the younger man sits by the window and weeps silently.
And then they glance at each other.
What follows is a nuanced dance of exchanges over a period of a few days — reading each other out, sending signals by leaving books, meeting each other’s gaze and then disengaging, waiting for the other to make a move. Though both the characters are different from one another, they’re tied by a common thread — that of apprehension. They want to approach each other but they don’t. They each take two steps forward and back out, unsure.
Nobody says a word in this short film, and for a purpose. Director Faraz Arif Ansari started writing the project in 2013 after the Supreme Court criminalised homosexuality, as an ode to all those love stories that didn’t or couldn’t run their course because of fear, societal pressure or apprehension. But the whole film can be summarised by its title which is Urdu for ‘silent cries’, suggested by the director’s mother who, like others, could hear the sound of heartbreak.
Like a gospel song, the 20-minute film ends on a peak, the characters of Jitin Gulati and Dhruv Singhal standing by the door as the music blends with the chugging of the train. Though the film is subtle, the message it sends across is not — Section 377 needs to go and consensual relationships need to be normalised, whether they’re same-sex or otherwise. No wonder it has won 44 international awards.