Fire to Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga; 23 years later have we finally opened up to the LGBTQ community?

23 years ago, Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi set out to portray on the big screen same-sex love story in Deepa Mehta’s Fire which faced protests. Now, Sonam K Ahuja’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga dealt with the same issue and got lauded by viewers. Have we finally opened up to LGBTQ rights?
Fire to Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga; 23 years later have we finally opened up to the LGBTQ community?Fire to Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga; 23 years later have we finally opened up to the LGBTQ community?
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23 years ago, a courageous film-maker, Deepa Mehta set out to do something that no film-maker back then had the courage to make. She set to tell the tale of two women lovers through her film Fire which starred Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi. The story surely was an out and out love story. However, no one in India, back in 1996, could fathom a same-sex relationship. Deepa Mehta’s Fire told us a tale of Radha and Sita, who fall in love with each other under dire circumstances. However, back then, the relationship between two people of the same sex was considered as a taboo.

Thus, Fire was subjected to major protests by political parties like Bajrang Dal, BJP, Shiv Sena and rigid Hindutva followers. The movie’s uncut version released in India in 1996 and it lead to major havoc. Many people took to streets and protested outside theatres. In Maharashtra, then Chief Minister Manohar Joshi lauded the protestors for stopping the screening of Fire and said, “I congratulate them for what they have done. The film's theme is alien to our culture.” Political party supporters went ahead and burnt the movie’s posters and vandalised the screens where the movie was being shown. However, at the same time, some of the intellectual folks also applauded the movie and acting by Shabana Azmi and Nandita. In Calcutta (now Kolkata), the cine-goers fought back the protestors and were able to go ahead with the screening of the film. But, the appreciators were outnumbered by the protestors and the movie faced a lot of flak. 

Coming to think of it, Deepa Mehta’s Fire was a part of a trilogy of films which was based on the elements of nature, as Earth was the second part and the third was Water. However, due to so many protests against Fire, Water, which was about the story of poverty-stricken widows was shelved. The shooting wasn’t allowed in Uttar Pradesh and Deepa’s sets were burnt and vandalised back then. Such was the people’s mindset in India 23 years ago. Closed, rigid and ignorant towards the LGBTQ community, is how one would describe the people of India 23 years ago. 

However, now, coming to Sonam K Ahuja’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, the movie portrays the story of a young woman Sweety who has accepted her reality as a lesbian and chooses to keep it a secret from her family due to the fear of being judged and shunned. She keeps her love affair a secret until a point it becomes necessary to share. The film dealt with the similar theme as Fire, i.e. same-sex relationship but in today’s time. Shelly Chopra Dhar’s Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga didn’t face a single protest. It released smoothly and was lauded for being a mainstream film on LGBTQ relationship. Amidst Fire and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, one would surely wonder what has changed. Well, the answer lies somewhere in the fact that the apex authority of India, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement with regards to Section 377 related to LGBTQ rights. Earlier, any same-gender relationship was punishable by law. Now, that isn’t the case anymore. 

So, is it only because of the change in the law that Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga didn’t face any protest from political activists or has the simple concept of freedom and acceptance registered in people’s mindsets. Well, in any case, movies like Fire and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga are in the league of path-breaking cinema as they didn’t just share a story, they actually made the society a better place for the LGBTQ community. More and more people have come out about their sexual preferences and the recent LGBTQ parade in Mumbai is a classic example of people accepting the LGBTQ community. Whatever the case may be, movies are a projection of the society and in the words of Amitabh Bachchan, “Cinema picks up ideas from the society and not other way round.” Films like Fire and Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga surely prove that. 

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