Growing up, Bollywood had us convinced that apna time aayega when it comes to love. But, and there is a big but there, it will come in the form of a boy-meets-girl narrative with a side of patriarchy. So, where did that leave queer folks who were still trying to come to terms with their sexualities, looking for a glimpse of themselves in the cine icons of their times?
They had to fall back on their imagination, of course.
Thankfully, the past few years have been all about unlearning all the toxic things that Bollywood poured into us while peddling straight-laced romances. Bollywood’s love affair with love stories is after all, eternal. But what has been categorically missing from Bollywood so far is the existence of queer love stories in the very mainstream, potboiler space. To put it simply, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga feels long overdue at this point.
Yes, we’ve had the likes of Deepa Mehta and Onir make films like Fire and My Brother…Nikhil over the years. Their films were poignant yet powerful. We’ve also had the likes of Karan Johar make one caricature after another of every stereotype about gay men out there in his films – from Dostana to Kal Ho Naa Ho to Student Of The Year. His Bombay Talkies and Kapoor & Sons are possibly the only exceptions, but alas, even they weren’t love stories of the queer kind. Even Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s queer explorations of Alauddin Khilji’s sexuality and his relationship with his slave-general/confidant Malik Kafur in Padmaavat was problematic AF.
As India woke up to the decriminalisation of Section 377 on September 6, 2018, there were celebrations everywhere. Hashtags and ad films about letting love be mushroomed in rainbow colours in all corners. As joyous as the watershed moment was, everyone involved in the fight acknowledged that there’s still a long way to go before LGBTQI relationships are entirely normalised in our society. One massive way to do that still happens to be truthful representation of queer characters and relationships in pop culture.
Bollywood, which as a medium can reach out to the masses like no other, needed to step up their game to do their bit much earlier. One hopes that with Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga we will finally have something, which is always better than nothing. When the trailer dropped, it hinted towards Sonam Kapoor’s character being queer and we were SHOOK. Then the second trailer came and erased all doubts of it being just another film using queerness as a gimmick.
When the first trailer of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga came out, Pooja Nair wrote for the Gaysi Family, “Movies starring people outside the heteronormative reality we live in have always been made by the independent cinema scene in India, and in case it is made by the mainstream- it’s often marred with stereotypical images. BUT. Here’s where Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga comes in. It’s a sappy movie. With the same movie line of love and tragedy like every film we’ve grown up watching. And this is exactly why it’s SO important. Because we queers deserve a DDLJ of our own.”
It has taken Indian cinema, Hindi cinema this long to give us a queer equivalent to all the DDLJs and Rab Ne Banadi Jodis of the universe. While it’s still too early to predict if Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, a film that promises to be about love and acceptance, will deliver, we’re glad it’s happening at least. Next, with fear in our hearts, we shall be curiously awaiting KJo’s next “homosexual love story”.