Raising South Asian Voices

Cynthia Dettman:  Author

ek ladki ko dekha toh aisa

The film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa “came out” in February 2019 and is Bollywood’s first lesbian movie!  Apparently Bollywood is ready to deal with more LGBT issues since the 2018 Indian Supreme Court decision that decriminalized homosexuality.  The trailer to “How I Felt When I saw that Girl” promises a hidden secret love- but it clearly implies a heterosexual romance- it only barely hints that there are lesbians involved!  It’s a romantic comedy, with lots of the warm humor and eccentric characters (including what appear to be very happy servants) that Indian viewers have come to enjoy.  Of course the lesbians are both super feminine and beautiful- no boyish women in this movie!   And of course one can’t expect a truly deep and honest story from Bollywood, but…

Bollywood exerts huge cultural influence, just like Hollywood and television do in the US.    So hurray for the producers and directors for adding this entertaining movie to the national conversation.

Yeah, it’s available on Netflix with English subtitles!  Just watched it.  Western viewers, be prepared for typical sappy, silly, over-acted scenes with music and dance- but definitely worth seeing for the color, some of the acting, and really beautiful men and women!  The story was focused on the family’s reactions to their gorgeous young daughter when they discover (about 2/3 of the way through the movie) that she has a female lover.  They’re trying to marry her off, but then Dad remembers his independent, precocious young daughter who wrote in her diary and realizes that she needs to be who she wants to be.  The ending has some good preachy declarations from the father and a little statement at the end supporting the idea that people should be able to love whom they choose.  Nothing deep- but for India and for Bollywood, this is a first!!!!

Perhaps this is equal to Ellen Degeneres coming out on American TV?  A sea change- at least in the Indian entertainment world?  But the general population will need a lot of movies to begin to sway in the direction of cultural LGBT acceptance.  After all, it’s taken several generations for acceptance to grow in the US, the land of individual rights and personal choice.

This South Asian commentator says the movie is more about the straight characters, but says that’s OK because that’s whom they may be reaching- straight family members who have to deal with a gay child.  Script-writer Shelly Dhar says she aimed the movie at parents of LGBTQ children, hoping to encourage acceptance.  Her fellow script-writer, Gazal Dhaliwal, is a trans woman.

(But aren’t only men gay?  Really, a lesbian?  Wow!)

The story is not set in a small town, which is a good thing.  A lot of folks think that gay rights are imported from the West and that they are not to be discussed or dealt with outside of India’s huge, cosmopolitan cities.  The movie very directly faces all the questions that society might ask of a lesbian couple – and the movie explains. LGBT folks are born that way.  And it’s all about being accepted as a human being-  and about accepting all forms of love.

It will be interesting to see where the Indian film industry goes from here!  Even if the industry’s social messages are embedded in the stock characters and wild musical world of Indian cinema, they send powerful new cultural waves into the landscape.

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