When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Indian film has had a chequered history, frequently falling short of accurately portraying the country’s LGBTQIA+ population and their stories. Tokenism and stereotyping have frequently harmed mainstream Indian movies with queer and Trans protagonists. What has repeatedly emerged is shamelessly reductive, if not retrogressive stories.
Despite the fact that independent and niche regional cinema has significantly aided LGBT+ visibility, there is still a long way to go until complete and varied representation across all facets of the film industry is achieved.
Below is a list of films that have come closer to the portrayal of representation of queer and trans issues in Indian Cinema:
Margarita With A Straw (2014)
Directed by Shonali Bose and starring Kalki Koechlin as a person with cerebral palsy bound to a wheel-chair, Margarita with a Straw paints a picture of a person with disabilities on their quest of self-discovery, sexual liberation and exploration. The movie wins in how it shows the protagonist as not dependent on able-bodied people and instead, rightfully gives a dignified portrayal as a character that does not intend to invoke the pity of others.
This Hansal Mehta movie is based on the true story of professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras who was suspended and then fired because of a ‘sting operation’ that revealed his relationship with another man. Things change for the better for the professor (played brilliantly by Manoj Bajpayee) when a journalist, Deepu Sebastian, gets involved and his suspension gets revoked.
Kapoor and Sons (2016)
A breath of fresh air when it comes to Karan Johar’s otherwise caricaturized portrayal of the queer community, this Dharma Productions movie was among the few that paved way for normalising the portrayal of the lives of queer people. Kapoor and Sons was instrumental in encouraging inclusion, even though it did not go into greater detail about general queer concerns.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)
In the context of the decriminalisation of Section 377, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019) was an important commentary to improve the ethical visibility of queer characters in Bollywood. Written and directed by transgender people Gazal Dhaliwal and Shelly Chopra Dhar, this film offered Bollywood fans a novel plot that broke from queer clichés and paved the way for future queer representation in Indian cinema.
Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (2021 )
The plot of Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui (2021) has a transgender woman who is ‘cis-passing’, or being mistaken by most people for a cisgender woman, a woman designated female at birth. Movie also received criticism for getting a cis woman to play a trans woman’s role when there are enough and more trans women actors entitled to play the role in the industry today who did not get the part.
However, it is crucial to recognize that appropriate portrayal and diversity in mainstream Indian film still have a long way to go. Characters that identify as trans and queer are frequently presented in stereotyped and caricatured ways, which reinforces negative preconceptions and maintains stigmas. There is a need for more varied perspectives behind the camera and for trans and queer people to be represented more prominently in both mainstream and indie movies.
Note: This is not an exhaustive or a holistically representative list.