A Bollywood film on lesbian love released on Friday is pushing boundaries in a country where most audiences find the subject too embarrassing to mention.
Ek Ladki ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (How I Felt on Seeing the Girl), a light and humour-laced production, centres on the relationship between a lonely small-town Punjabi heroine and her doting father, who is eager to marry her off in an “arranged” match.
On being introduced to prospective grooms, she quietly but firmly states that no boy can win her heart.
Instead, she declares her love for another woman, a claim that evokes drunken laughter from her putative husband and excuses from her family that she is unwell and in need of treatment.
As the film progresses the heroine struggles for her right to lead life on her own terms.
“It’s an unusual theme and one that a majority of Indians find difficult to accept and come to terms with” said Ms Seema Mustafa of the Mustafa of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi.
Same sex love isn’t a frequently broached topic by Bollywood but of late some productions have grudgingly admitted that it exists, she added.
Fire, an earlier film with a lesbian them, evoked violent reactions after it was released in 1998.
Offended by the overt gay love it portrayed, Hindu zealots from the right-wing Shiv Sena in Mumbai smashed glass panes in city cinemas, burnt posters and shouted slogans, forcing theatres to cancel its viewing.
But things had changed over the past two decades.
After years of campaigning by gay rights activists, India’s Supreme Court de-criminalised homosexuality last September, ending an archaic Colonial-era law.
Prejudices, however, persist amongst the general Indian public against members of the LGBT community – something films like Ek Ladki seek to change.
Film director Shelly Chopra Dar’s understated and gentle characters bear no resemblance to Bollywood’s typically exaggerated characterisation of homosexuals as she endeavours to portray the growing reality of gay love in Indian society.