After the unforgettable Brokeback Mountain, a few outstanding films about the gay experience have come out of Hollywood—Moonlight, Call Me By Your Name, Boy Erased. Indian society is still grappling with LGBTQ issues, and it was only last year that the Supreme Court struck down Section 377 of the IPC, that criminalized homosexuality.
Sridhar Rangayan’s film Evening Shadows, circles around clichés, and the conversations between two gay lovers are about Section 377, which in 2013, was upheld by the Supreme Court, reversing Delhi High Court’s 2009 verdict in favour of same-sex love. Still, it is a well-intentioned and sensitively made film, important because any move towards opening up a dialogue about tolerance and inclusivity is welcome.
With the legal battles being fought on the sidelines—and seen on TV--a domestic drama is being played out in a conservative Tamil household in Srirangapatana. Kartik (Devansh Doshi) returns home after four years, for a puja; he has made a life in Mumbai as a photographer, and lives with his partner Aman (Arpit Chaudhary). His father Damodar (Ananth Mahadevan) disapproves of his choice of career, and wants him to take up a stable job, but is unaware of his sexuality. His mother Vasudha (Mona Ambegaonkar) thinks Aman is Kartik’s roommate.
As soon as Kartik enters his home (a beautiful old-world bungalow), where hectic preparations for the puja are on, he finds that his father has lined up a prospective bride for him, and she is waiting with her family, all dressed up to finalise the match.
The father is seen as an old-fashioned and patriarchal boor, who orders his wife around, thinks nothing of insulting her in front of guests (“hopeless case” is his favourite term for her) and expects every command of his to be instantly obeyed. Vasudha is a typically submissive homemaker, ignoring her husband’s barbs and trying to keep everyone happy.
Kartik’s marriage is high on her mind too, and in order to persuade him, she accompanies him on a day trip to a scenic location, where, fed-up of all the “get married” pressure, Kartik blurts out that he is gay. Vasudha’s reaction is that of massive shock followed by outraged silence. She starts getting nightmares about her son, and also flashbacks about his being unlike other boys (he liked to cook as a child), but she is at least willing to talk to him. After the usual beliefs—it is unnatural, it is dirty—are aired, she accepts his choice.
Rangayan also touches upon small-town hypocrisy—Kartik’s supposedly happily married uncle is a closet gay, and it was with him the boy had his first homosexual experience. The uncle keeps trying to seduce Kartik, inviting him over when his family is away. The wife does find out, and even though the consequences are not dealt with, one can be certain she stays on with her husband. Kartik’s other aunt, who walked out on an abusive husband, is taunted for not being able to save her marriage.
When the father accidentally finds out about Kartik’s homosexuality, there is major melodrama. He beats up Kartik, throws him out of the house and then calls pundits to perform the shraadh (funeral rites) of his son. The scene of the mother shrieking cringeworthy lines (“I nurtured him with my blood in my womb for nine months”) could have been toned down. Also, one wonders if the mother is so supportive because Kartik is a son—and the son-worshipping tendencies of Indian mothers are famous-- would she have been as empathetic if it was a daughter?
Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh, showed how far a traditional society could go in discriminating against gays. Evening Shadows, that gets a limited release after festival screenings and awards, makes a point that can never be overstated-- that love between two humans be accepted, and that the support of parents would go a long way in changing rigidly conventional attitudes. Progressiveness, like charity, begins at home.