From books to movies to television, the stories we consume have the power to shape how we see other people, and ourselves. There’s a reason why “representation matters” has long been a rallying cry for the LGBTQ+ community.
The Bengali film industry has been celebrating the marginalised for quite some time now. Directors like Rituporno Ghosh, Kaushik Ganguly and Subrata Sen have portrayed the rainbow community with the deserved grace and dignity through their films.
Here is a list of Bengali films that have reflected and represented queer culture on screen:
‘Nil Nirjane’ (2003)
Way back in 2003 when Subrata Sen made ‘Nil Nirjane’, he could only give a glimpse about the idea of lesbianism. The roles were played by Raima Sen and June Mallia. An unwed mother and a widower visit a resort to spend their weekend with their respective children, unaware that their lives are about to change forever.
This film was one of the first few that could introduce the concept of exploring sexuality amongst people through the screen. There were scenes of two lesbian kisses in the ‘Nil Nirjane’, the first a mere peck and the second more intense.
‘Samo -The Equals’ (2010)
Actress Chandreyee Ghosh made her directorial debut with this controversial Bengali cinema.‘Samo - The Equals’ narrates a story about homosexuals. It portrays people who choose their sexual preferences. The film deals with the emotions that emerge in a same-sex relationship.
‘Arekti Premer Golpo’ (2010)
Kaushik Ganguly’s ‘Arekti Premer Golpo’ is a masterpiece that won a national award. The story is about a transgender documentary filmmaker who starts shooting for a documentary on ‘Chapal Bhaduri’ who used to impersonate a popular female character ‘Chapal Rani’ in Jatra. The plot joins two different timelines in a single thread. Rituparno Ghosh enacted the famous actor and it drew a tricky parallel between two persons dealing with the same dilemma.
The movie highlights the brutal struggle a man faces as he craves for womanhood. This is by far one of the best Rituparno Ghosh’s directorial. Ghosh, Jisshu Sengupta and Anjan Dutta starrer was even received with a round of applause for showing what it feels for the people who fight for gender identity. Still, it attracted controversy owing to the nature of the subject.
'Chitrangada' configures the eternal message, 'Be what you wish to be'. That’s why the tagline 'The Crowning Wish' perfectly fits the film.
‘Achena Bondhutto’ (2015)
Teesta, the lead actress in the film, is a transsexual. Her role is about the struggle to gain acceptance and make people aware that the queer community is not just about clapping hands.
The film also talks about how to accept everybody as a human, irrespective of gender. This docu-feature is the first Bengali film which cast the members of the LGBTQIA+ community across West Bengal and Bangladesh in lead roles. Journalist-turned-director Hrisikesh Mondal donned the director’s hat for ‘Achena Bondhutto’.
This film captures the love story of Parimal, a transwoman and Madhu a flute player from the Kirtaniya town of Nabadwip. It's a poignant tale of queer love and identity. 'Nagarkirtan' holds a mirror to the viewers.
One common thing that fascinates about these films was that they were way ahead of their times and highlighted the existence of the rainbow community. These films made the common man in Bengali households wake up to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Watch these Bengali cinemas that broke stereotypes and celebrated queer.