Posted by Akshay Kumar
TW: Mentions of conversion therapy
Since the recognition of their rights, several from the LGBTQ+ community all over India now are hoping to see the legislation of same-sex marriages one day. Recently, a PIL being filed into Delhi HC for recognition of same-sex couples under the Hindu Marriage Act. This was right around the release of the much-awaited anthology called Forbidden Love, one of which is Arranged Marriage, on the OTT Platform – Zee5 touching upon the similar lines.
Straight with the dropping of the trailer and introducing four romantic thrillers by four national award film-makers, it did leave most of the audience thrilled to unveil the usually forbidden visuals. Building on the conversations around same-sex marriages, this article intends to explore how Arranged Marriage goes on to portray the plight of gay persons and female(s) between them in relation to hierarchy, marriage, identity, mental health, and many more prominent concerns.
The trailer remarks Arranged Marriage as – ‘A path-breaking story about unconditional love and boundless freedom.’
Directed by Mardaani (2014) and Parineeta (2005) fame Pradeep Sarkar and written by Sonali Sehgal, Arranged Marriage revolves around just everything one observes into the trailer – two gay men, one of them getting married & an unsatisfied wife with her mysteriousness to make it more layered.
The film opens up with a woman sitting on a pulled-rickshaw being washed with a background music suggesting her to not go into the lanes of affection (eventually love). The female gaze reaches into several lanes and the story unfolds, making oneself curious, already knowing what can happen further from the trailer of Arranged Marriage.
Through the eyes and bodies of Neil (Omkar Kapoor), Dev (Ali Fazal), and Keya (Patralekha Paul), Arranged Marriage attempts to put light on so many things usually seen and think of in the darkness. From the woman being manglik, unusual cultural practices, physical abuse, mental health issues to gender conversion therapy, it intends well to strike the chords.
Utilising the palette of depicting gay men stuck in heterosexual relations from Bombay Talkies, Made in Heaven, etc., Arranged Marriage bravely goes a little deeper into the portrayal and things which might make us rightly uncomfortable.
The story being originally credited to Suchhanda, does remind us about the hardships of being gay in India quite intimately. The narrative looks captivating since the background music, cinematography and majorly the characters make you part of their everyday life in an upper-middle-class colony from Kolkata.
The visuals of Arranged Marriage offer well-blended messaging but some of them look disjointed, which disturbs the interest one develops with the characters. For example, you’ve just met the girl and the guys and getting familiar with them with their surroundings and suddenly you get an abrupt shot straight on your face–The girl being showered with pigeon’s blood by her aunt literally saying – ‘now no groom can say no to you for marriage’.
In another instance, we see Dev smoking in the tram and going somewhere and the shot set in the evening cuts to the one in the night which again makes the transition a bit patchy and forced. Despite these small glitches, I felt the Arranged Marriage majorly works through the way it is told having feels of a memoir. Some of the shots work very well too, for instance, a shot becomes memorable where the bride and groom are seeing each other and the lover of the groom is standing beside the bride.
The groom steals a moment to see his lover when the bride looks down. This symbolic representation of gay people wanting (actually dreaming) heterosexual marriages for themselves is an extension of what is quite a debate.
The timeline of the setting of Arranged Marriage is however not mentioned at all and I struggled to place it in the ’90s or in contemporary times. The dates on the bills in one of the sequences towards the end helped me identify it to be placed in 2013. The same year which is evident to the judgement of recriminalising homosexuality.
This possibly can also be a reason for an enforced focus upon the conversion therapy to cure homosexuality which clearly in this world is nothing but a ‘disease’. Listening to some of the dialogues can be a bit triggering for many LGBTQ+ people in re-awaking them to their scarred memories.
Swanand Kirkire’s lyrics and the actor’s performances along with Rono’s background music manages to give you some unexpected alarming shocks. Patralekha, straight from her first dialogue in the Bengali dialect to her range of emotions, steals the show. Ali Fazal being his best even when the writing of Arranged Marriage feels a little sloppy manages to make his mark along with the supportive cast. Omkar Kapoor does a good job too in many moments but looks a little conscious in some of the crucial scenes.
Arranged Marriage sensibly raises our awareness towards not only the struggles of gay men but equally towards the woman between them and her battles, without villainising her in the process. The ending sequence of Arranged Marriage get us to the celebrated 2018 judgement of decriminalising homosexuality.
The ending seems exciting yet sudden but what remained disheartening for me is throughout Arranged Marriage, the role of the female can be seen of equal importance, yet is being forgotten in the end messaging. I mean it is beautiful and indeed empowering to see “forbidden” gay stories getting more visibility in recent times. But, if equal care, acknowledgement and awareness had gone into the depiction of how the ‘act’ affected the life of a heterosexual woman involved, I felt, could have made this film stronger and more impactful.
For elevating consciousness towards bringing social equity and justice to individuals who’re still breathing through what society tells us is “forbidden love”, Arranged Marriage definitely deserves a watch. The conversation(s) it tries to strike were much awaited to be discussed more intensely; to become individuals who understand and feel more; along with being able to act on the things a lot more than we used to. It proves to be a sweet, predictably unexpected reminder to notice everything forbidden (and arranged) in and around us and confronting it.
Akshay Kumar is currently pursuing his master’s in English Language Teaching from The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad. He is dominantly interested in digging up the unheard and unseen, exploring the ‘subaltern’ elements in nearly everything he comes across to. He wishes to eventually make short films around LGBTQ+ issues and language politics & identities, teach in a good university space and spend his weekends in the hills writing Urdu poetry, sipping tea over coke studio songs. He can be found on Instagram and Facebook.
Featured Image Source: Techquila and as shared by the author