Bollywood, loved by millions for its opulence, melodramatic plot lines and lengthy dance sequences, still has a long way to go in representing the true life experiences of people.
Its queer representation, for example, sorely lacks. Which is why filmmaker Shiva Raichandani set out to change the narrative, offering the vibrance of India’s biggest movie enterprise, but with gay, trans and non-binary depictions centred in their short film, Queer Parivaar.
The London-dwelling director and actor, 28, released the short last month, selling out tickets at BFI Flare, showcasing the best of queer cinema. And it’s gained firm fans since.
Queer Parivaar follows the story of couple Madhav and Sufi (with Madhav played by Raichandani) on their wedding day, when they’re interrupted by a mystery guest - Madhav’s long-lost grandmother.
The maternal figure lovingly accepts the happy couple, revealing her own secrets that caused her to be ostracised from the family.
Madhav, who had been shut out from their home – just as their grandparents had – finds solace in the story, before the reunited family members rejoice in the celebrations, bringing familial love together with the love of friendship and community.
“Growing up, I didn’t have many imageries of positive queer South Asian experiences,” Raichandani explains to HuffPost UK.
“A lot of our narratives tend to revolve around sadness, trauma, violence, death, murders, and so this was a way to make room for joy, hope, celebration, and love. We also don’t talk about or see enough of elder queer south Asians living out and proud, so bringing the intergenerational aspect was important to me.”
The artist also insists on portraying the ‘mundane’ aspects of normal life, saying: “Not everything in a trans person’s narrative needs to be heightened for dramatics. There’s power in showing the mundane, the simplicity, the casual, the relaxed”.
The project was also for selfish reasons, admits Raichandani. “I didn’t grow up thinking I’d find nor experience romantic love (and its celebration through occasions like a wedding) and/or chosen families/support, etc.
“So this was a nice way to honour that fact that a lot of us don’t grow up dreaming of these things, because we’re constantly worried about just existing, making it through life, navigating hetero-patriarchal pressures.”
Getting the project off the ground was no easy feat either, with funding secured from fundraising, and the pandemic halting filming twice. But ultimately, it created more than 120 jobs for people from marginalised backgrounds, featuring music from new and seasoned artists, weaving both Hindi and English into soundtracks.
Since selling out tickets at the BFI, the film has also been endorsed by actress Jameela Jamil.
And watching the actors adorned in traditional Indian wedding attire, embraced by their family, has meant a lot to its audiences.
Social media has been abuzz with praise since the trailer dropped.
Raichandani adds that they’re just happy to finally bring their art into the world.
“I hope it brings people joy, hope, and a sense of belonging,” Raichandani said. “This film isn’t here to claim to be a representation of the entire LGBTQ+ community, it’s just some experiences and if people feel like they can relate to it or see themselves in it, then that’s beautiful.”