Why did India say yes to lesbian ad and no to lesbian film?


For a large section of people out there, who continue to be misinformed about the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, an advertisement by Anouk-Myntra, about live-in lesbian partners was a revelation. Marketed as the first of its kind advert, it was dissected from all possible angles to hail the Indian society for finally achieving maturity and accepting homosexuals in our routine life.

The representation of LGBT community as two cute looking girls going about their daily lives and anxiously waiting for parental approval was a rarity so far as Indian adverts are concerned. Since discussions over LGBT issues are usually marred with series of controversies, judgemental remarks and caustic debates; the pleasant tone of ad was a clear departure.

So when we were busy raving and celebrating the “one-of-its-kind” lesbian ad to make a strong presence in the middle class society, Florida based Indian-American filmmaker Raj Amit Kumar, chose to quietly screen his controversial film Unfreedom describing stark realities in the life of lesbians, for a select audience in the quiet corners of Mumbai. The film has been banned in India as the censor board found it improper and unsuitable for the Indian audience.

A large section of the young people, including those from the core LGBT communities, got together to watch Unfreedom, screened at Hive in Mumbai. The movie was also screened at IIT Bombay Film Festival to make the audience watch and judge it for themselves. The strong narration and graphic portrayal did not deter the young audience from getting “goosebumps” and being “moved to the core”.

The film, which was released at a few US theatres on May 29, received a mixed response. American film reviewers were more concerned about the fact that it was banned in India than analysing the film. The west got yet another reason to highlight how India has rightly acquired the titled “ban-istan”.

The bold sexual scenes were a big reason for the board’s revising committee to suggest a few cuts that were not acceptable to the rebel filmmaker, who had again appealed to Information & Broadcasting ministry’s Appellate Tribunal FCAT. In response to the appeal, the authorities banned the film regardless of the cuts. Kumar has now appealed in the high court and urged supporters to sign a petition on Change.Org against the ban imposed on the film. He has been vociferously defending his decision of not cutting out explicit sex scenes as the censor board feels Kumar has a problem with the idea and not with those scenes per se.

The film narrates the life of runaway bride (played by Preeti Gupta) who elopes with her partner, a painter, to escape the wedding arranged by her traditional family. Kumar took a rather provocative stance to use nudity as an important ingredient to explain the plight of transgender women, particularly those in an oppressed society. The narration was way too harsh to be perceived as politically incorrect for a society that loves mushy portrayal of plots narrating issues as strong as terrorism or homosexuality.

Well known as the world’s most dedicated fans of romanticism, even a slight mention of realism makes most Indians cringe with pain. This goes on to prove why most of us loved the soft subtext and simplistic presentation of the two girls in the Myntra advertisement, who at first glance passed off as close friends living as roomies. But that’s all we Indians can handle as audience.

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