By Akshay Kumar
Our monotonous life filled with new and older purposes do not allow us to ‘stop’ and ‘feel’ most of the times. One of the elements from our daily lives which remains subaltern is – those eye-to-eye conversations with the strangers we usually come across randomly. Such moment(s)- when you just went to the nearby shop and some never seen individual caught your eye and triggered something through their gaze. We all experience it: some confront, some forget, some stop bothering about it after a while.
This article, through a rarely known short film: known to be India’s first queer silent film – Sisak, talks about the impact of above-mentioned interactions in our daily lives, a known yet less-cared side of Indian gay culture(s) and eventually about sexuality and masculinities.
Written and directed by Faraz Ansari’s handle, Sisak is India’s first silent LGBTQ ‘love story’ which emotionally becomes a social commentary about gay men in India. It has been to 120 major film festivals across the globe, have won 59 international awards and yet, remains rarely known among the masses. Like many other LGBTQ films which intends to show the protagonists without ‘masala’ and any commercial agenda, Sisak too fails to be explicitly visible to people. Many Indian directors wishing to make films around same sex couples or queer characters struggle to get funds and often feel powerless. Being the first Indian film in last 33 years to have won Audience Choice Best Film Award at Wicked Queer, a LGBTQ Film Festival in Boston, Sisak‘s stand makes its stand resounding clear through its silence.
Sisak (which means Sobbing in English) portrays the narrative of two men seeing each other in the local Mumbai train while returning to their homes and acts as an allegory to notice the silence of queer voices in relation to real-life implementations around scrapping off section 377 in contemporary times.
SShh… You know this exist too, ignore!
Sisak attempts well to depict homosexual men trapped in heterosexual relations. Existing cinema ranging from Bombay talkies, I am to Made in heaven etc. have dealt with such men, but always in relation with their ‘placement’ in heterosexual relations. It is rare to get a deeper picture into what these men exactly ‘feel’ like. With exceptions such as Fire in 1996 and I am in 2010, Indian films around same-sex love have mostly played safe by being less focused on the characters themselves but the surroundings around them.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga and Shubh Mangal Jyada Saavdhan have both tried using the masala formula of focusing more on the family reactions than developing the characters onscreen. One may argue, that is how Indian audience would understand and get familiar with such less-talked topics. But how will the audience understand same-sex love, when all they are seeing is dominantly others’ reactions around them? When the camera and script is not focused on the family’s reaction, they are delving into the spouse’s or the neighbours’ responses – furthering what seems like its’ complicity with the ‘log kya kahenge’ narrative.
Sisak meanwhile raises questions with silence to make one think about closeted gay men with engagement rings on their fingers yet feeling unhappy. Sisak also attempts to make us pause for moments and just observe the helpless-ness through the eyes and gestures of the protagonists. The film follows the route of travelling into the inner dilemmas through social interactions than going towards social interactions that decenters the affected individuals’ perspectives. Having a T.S Eliot quote- ‘The word within a word, unable to speak’, in the opening credits, says it quite well about the plight of not only such men but every other queer person who’s still not able to ‘speak’ even today, being suffocated by heteronormativity that exists in our society till date.
Interestingly the supposably married (but surely engaged) guy protagonist (played by Jitin Gulati) appears to be reading Haruki Murakami’s South of the Border, West of the Sun, centred around a lonely man who begins a dangerous relationship with a mysterious woman, endangering his marriage. That is how symbolic and layered this film is, which overtakes your senses through the visuals inside ever seen train, which still feels to be speaking something unfamiliar. Another book which appears to be from another protagonist (played by Dhruv Singhal) is Jean-Claude Kaufmann’s The Curious History of Love, which as Gary Alan Fine suggests-provides an insight into how romantic life is shaped through ‘sentimental education’. Both the books & many other visuals aware you with the characters more deeply.
Sexuality And Masculinities
Homosexual relations continue to be seen from a heterosexual gaze despite the intersectional movement’s assertion on passing the mic. Many still tend to think looking at two men or women together – so who is the dominant & who is the recessive one amongst them? We directly associate normative masculinities around these ‘dominant’ & ‘recessive’ aspects that we seek. Some initial mid-shots in Sisak of the protagonist’s hands accessorised by bracelets, Kolhapuri chappals along with their kurta pyjama attire establishes the image of changing masculinities straight in the starting. Then enters the other protagonist of Sisak: suited up with perfectly groomed beard, holding his office bag. Both protagonists together symbolise a peace between existing and emerging masculinities. Sisak portraying (rather, normalising) men crying makes you care and worry less about the ‘men don’t cry’ scam. One, rather, roots for them. The momentum of Sisak eventually takes you towards hope: as one stands in front of other, just to look at himself/herself – to feel more resilient by voicing the confrontations.
Sisak alarms us too as it approaches the reality of social implementation of equity. It is pertinent that concerns around films on homosexual narratives facing lack of funding, exposure and unacceptance needs to be addressed with changing times. With an intention to (re)search the forgotten or ignored pieces of cinema, to understanding a little more about the ‘suppressed’, to acknowledging the politics around LGBTQ+ films, Sisak speaks much of the less talked.
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: Homegrown