Looking for plus-one

Why do people want to get married? For companionship, perhaps, or physical intimacy? Or, is it for the security reasons?  

What about if a queer individual in India decides to test the waters out for themselves?

This is at the heart of the 67-minute interview documentary Gay India Matrimony. Three protagonists, Sayan, Gourab and Debalina, venture into the world of marriage, looking for a same-gender partner for themselves.

The documentary was shot from 2014, a year after the Supreme Court verdict on recriminalising homosexuality, to 2018 when section 377 was ruled out as unconstitutional, decriminalising homosexual activity. 

However, what sets Gay India Matrimony apart is the amiable tone it adopts while still educating viewers on the social and political constraints the LGBTQIA+ community faces, compared to the privileges and rights that the institution of marriage apparently automatically guarantees heterosexual individuals.  

Gay India Matrimony opens with a glamorous and lavish Bengali wedding. The upbeat music, conch sounds and the ululudhvani all fit in with the extravaganza. However, the bride’s sister does not mirror the same happiness seen in others, as she will not get the same acceptance with her partner.

The protagonists place an ad on newspapers and social media, and  highlight selections that are unabashedly shaped by caste, class or political ideologies.

From Sayan’s mother wanting her son to postpone the marriage till they shift to another place to Gourab’s very own sister shutting down his suggestion of same-sex marriage as vulgar, director Debalina explores the dilemmas and desires face owing to conventional views of marriage.

A provoking scene takes place when the marriage registrar calls same-sex marriage the "abnormal" that contrasts to the traditional ‘happy Indian family’ that results from a heterosexual union.

Additionally, colourful perspectives, humour and serious dialogues discuss whether same-sex marriage or marriage as an institution itself is justified.

Instead of glorifying marriage, the documentary presents a good critique, with insightful discussions on private property, monogamy and exclusivity of marriage, to alternatives such as civil partnership. The interviews present practical views from Engel’s  theory to personal experiences of couples living together.

The documentary discusses rights, privileges and its exclusivity to heterosexual marriages, which the law also upholds, and why we have to dissociate privilege and marriage.

Read also: In the name of the son, Ashish Dhakal

The film is delicately edited to present its story in an engaging manner through different perspectives. Shots of lehenga and jewelry shops, the Bengali wedding, with a beautiful, moving soundtrack add to the angst and desire for recognition and dignity, such as the solemn harmonica that plays after a serious discourse.

The film echoes the ‘Kiss of Love’ protest tracing the campaigns  around Section  377, and ends on the turning  point for queer and LGBTQIA+ movements. At the scene when Section 377 was repealed, there were tears, there was celebration, and most importantly: there was hope.

Gay India Matrimony

India | 68 minutes | 2020

Written and directed by Debalina

Produced by Films Division of India

Cinematography by Debalina

Edited by Abhro Banerjee 

Photos: FSA

The 13th iteration of Film Southasia concluded on 24 April with Longing (India) by Bani Singh taking home The Ram Bahadur Trophy for the Best Documentary with a cash prize of $2,000. The Jury Award went to The Big-Headed Boy, Shamans & Samurais (Nepal) by Pooja Gurung and Bibhusan Basnet.

Best Debut Film Award ($1,000) was shared by India's Into the Sea and Nepal's Gurkha Girl. Winner in the children’s category ($1,000) was Mahalle’s School - Family Going Live (India) and Gaine (Nepal) in the student category ($500).

A new award this year supported by the United Nations Development Program was presented to Anam Abbas by Ayshanie Medagangoda-Labe. Titled the Planet’s People Documentary Fellowship, the award will support documentary production on the theme of climate justice.

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