Awe to Inspector Rishi: 6 times South cinema got its queer characters right - Hindustan Times
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Awe to Inspector Rishi: 6 times South cinema got its queer characters right

ByNeeshita Nyayapati
Jun 03, 2024 06:09 AM IST

This Pride Month, look at six Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam films and web series that got LGBTQIA+ representation right.

South cinema, TV shows and web series have not always been kind towards the LGBTQIA+ community. From cracking transphobic jokes on shows to portraying gay characters as abusers, most filmmakers have always played into the problematic trope of queer people being ‘different’. (Also Read: Pride Month: Sushant Divgikr, Mozez Singh, Apurva Asrani, Rick Roy reveal their favourite Hindi queer character)

Nivin Pauly, Nithya Menen and Malini Jeevarathnam in Moothon, Awe! and Inspector Rishi.
Nivin Pauly, Nithya Menen and Malini Jeevarathnam in Moothon, Awe! and Inspector Rishi.

But in the midst of it all, some filmmakers have penned beautiful queer characters that are organic and easy to resonate with. This pride month, take a look at six queer characters that were shown in all their glory in Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam films and web series.

Krishnaveni and Radha in Awe! (2018)

Prasanth Varma’s debut Telugu film Awe! didn’t make the audience sit up and take notice of just his directing skills. The director dared to go where no filmmaker in Tollywood had gone before by showing a loving and caring relationship on screen between Krishnaveni (Nithya Menen) and Radha (Eesha Rebba). While the focus of the segment in the anthology is to convince Radha’s conservative parents of their relationship, Prasanth doesn’t just normalise queer relationships; he also sheds light on child abuse with it.

Akbar, Ameer, Mulla in Moothon (2019)

There is a scene in Geetu Mohandas’ Malayalam film Moothon where Akbar (Nivin Pauly) and Ameer (Roshan Mathew) silently hold each other. Akbar, a Kuthu Ratheeb performer, falls for the mute Ameer, only for his family to disapprove. The silent hug seems to be their only solace in a world that doesn’t accept them. Mulla (Sanjana Dipu), Akbar’s sibling, is hinted to be a transgender person, given that they're first introduced as a 14-year-old boy from Lakshadweep who travels to Mumbai to search for their Moothon (brother).

Shilpa in Super Deluxe (2019)

Shilpa (Vijay Sethupathi) from Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s Tamil film Super Deluxe must be one well-known queer characters in south cinema. The director does an excellent job of exploring a transgender person through the eyes of their young, innocent child Rasukutty (Ashwanth Ashokkumar), who loves his father even if she’s ‘wearing a saree’. The way Shilpa is treated by the police and other parents is heartbreaking, but gaining the acceptance of Rasukutty and her wife Jyothi (Gayathrie) offers her solace.

Sathar in Paava Kadhaigal (2020)

Thangam, directed by Sudha Kongara, is one of the best short films in the Tamil anthology Paava Kadhaigal, which also includes shorts directed by Gautham Vasudev Menon, Vetrimaaran, and Vignesh Shivan. Sudha’s segment features the beautiful, pure-hearted Sathar (Kalidas Jayaram), a transgender person in love with her friend Saravanan (Shanthanu Bhagyaraj), whom she affectionately calls thangam (gold). She even helps him when he falls for her sister Sahira (Bhavani Sre). The ending of the segment is heartbreaking, and Sudha ensures Sathar finds allies in an unjust world, even if it’s too late by then.

Chitra in Inspector Rishi (2024)

It’s refreshing to see the south accept queer characters without hullabaloo while also showing the challenges they face. JS Nandhini’s Tamil web series Inspector Rishi sees one of the most respectful queer representations on screen. Policewoman Chitra (Malini Jeevarathnam) plays a lesbian woman fighting off her parents pressuring her to get married, while also finding a way forward with her girlfriend. Nandhini sheds light on how, even in 2024, many cannot grapple with same-sex relationships. The vanaratchi (mystical creature) who’s haunting villagers is also a metaphor for queers who don’t abide by norms.

Shankar in Gaami (2024)

Unlike most of the characters on this list, aghora Shankar’s (Vishwak Sen) gender is something director Vidyadhar Kagita rushes through in his Telugu film Gaami, choosing to dwell on the heartbreaking consequences of the reveal instead. When Shankar was young, he was known as Uma (Harika Pedada), the daughter of a Devadasi, Durga (Abhinaya). A scene shows a grown man trying to force himself on Uma, shocked after seeing their genitals - they're intersex. He has congenital adrenal hyperplasia, born with female characteristics, but grows up to have those of a man. The moment is also a call back to Lord Shiva (one of whose names is Shankar) being called Ardhanarishvara.

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