Pink-seems to be the colour for NRI filmmakers at the moment.
Be it US-based first-time director Soman Chainani's Love Marriage and Manan Katohora's (of Arya and Flavours fame) When Kiran Met Karen or UK-based award winning author, Shamim Sharif 's Can't Think Straight, proposed projects are films revolving around 'open and ok with their lives' gay and lesbian characters in the lead.
While Lisa Ray is in consultations for Sharif 's film, Perizaad Zorabian will play the lead in Katohora's film on a straight married lady in Manhattan who is influenced by a lesbian Chinese couple.
Perizaad Zorabian will play the lead in Katohora's film
Though many leading Bollywood actresses apparently "politely refused the role," Perizaad's assent has finally set the ball rolling.
The spurt in the genre is attributed to the success of Brokeback Mountain. Incidentally, several A-list actors didn't want to act in Brokeback Mountain, but once it earned Oscar nominations for its lead cast, "even Brad Pitt wants to play gay now. Brokeback… has really opened doors for LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender) cinema. God bless Ang Lee," says Katohora.
However, these filmmakers like Lee, don't want to restrict themselves to the done-do-death coming out and coming in terms with one's sexuality stories either.
Chainani, whose Love Marriage is like any other love story where the lead character happens to be in love with a man, says, "It's about the hypocrisy that plagues so many NRI families – what most NRI mothers tell their sons – date all the white girls you want as long as you keep it a secret and marry a high-class Indian."
Love Marriage sees this attitude taken to the extreme where a mother who fully accepts her son's sexuality is suddenly put in the position of having to turn against him outside the house.
Audiences have matured, with homosexuality ceasing to be a shocker, unlike the 'experimental and waking up track' in Deepa Mehta's Fire (1997). "I can't even sit through those types of gay films -– and I certainly can't sit through ones where they're stereotyped as effete, comic sidekicks. In Love Marriage the lead character doesn't struggle with his sexuality, neither does he cry over it – we're way past that," says Chainani.
Quite like the confidence amongst some of these filmmakers about their sexuality. For instance, Sharif, the author turned director of Can't Think Straight, is a lesbian herself and lives with her partner in London. Even in India, a lot has changed since Fire.
"I am not making my film for the lesbian-gay community alone, I think most straight men and women can relate to it," says Katohora.
The fact that films like My Brother Nikhil, Capote, Brokeback Mountain and the like didn't meet the fate of Fire has further encouraged these filmmakers to get bigger actors and plan an Indian release, for their otherwise limited-to-the-festival circuit films.
The Indian (local and NRI) audience finally seems to be up for it. But Manan feels that NRI filmmakers are still better equipped and have more creative freedom to attempt celluloid narratives veering round the sexual minority than their Indian counterparts.
"Unfortunately, it is true. A famous Bollywood actress, who was initially considering the project, told me that the only reason I am considering the film is because it's in English and set in Manhattan. 'It's cross-cultural and you are Indian-American'."
The bottomline is to be controversial and yet mainstream, and basically tell a good story.
"At the end of the day, it all comes down to the story – if you tell a good story, sexuality becomes moot. An arresting love story is an arresting love story – the gender doesn't matter. I'm sure this will get me into trouble, but I think if you put two men at the heart of Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, you'd have just as powerful a movie. It's the story, not the sexuality that makes a great romance," signs off Chainani.