India’s queer affair with video clips

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The charm of music videos is well known. I remember sitting at home on summer vacation and patiently waiting for a music channel to play the video I was hoping for.

The charm of these videos is not limited to nostalgic purposes, however. While new videos in Indian media were limited to common stereotypes (misogyny and the like), there was a time when music videos were filled with endless possibilities.

Let’s go back, for example, to the 90s and explore the unique way Falguni Pathak expressed queerness on screen. His independent music videos included small allusions to homosexuality, here and there… not to mention his larger than life but soft and gender non-conforming presence.

Falguni Pathak singing at a garba event. Photo credit: Falguni Pathak, Facebook.

She later became one of the first queer icons in India, and rightly so.

Falguni Pathak to the rescue

In the video of “Meri Chunar Udd Udd Jaye»(My stole flies away), we see a story unfold in a mysterious way. It started with Ayesha Takia walking into a castle-like house, eventually caging her inside.

With a white rabbit, she carries with her memories of the past. That’s when Falguni makes her entrance, dancing with Ayesha in the hills. Why they wore slippers and danced remains a mystery to this day.

But, Falguni’s unconventional way of doing things doesn’t fail to impress.

In my opinion, the song ends on a note which is an open interpretation. Defying the norms of a hetero-normative relationship, this gave Ayesha’s character the space to explore her emotions.

While the exact nature of Falguni’s relationship with Ayesha’s characters is not known, the scope of the exploration could clearly be seen.

One can make an educated guess. Towards the end, the man in the video is just a spectator. Just like in many of her other music videos, the woman still has the power to express herself.

These expressions may not be monumental, they can be everyday choices. But, the most important of them is the urge to dream.

This is what Falguni offered to the public so long ago: the freedom to dream, far from the binaries that the Indian media shoves in our throats.

Challenge what women ‘should’ look like

Falguni never played a major role in her videos either – sometimes all she did was offer her shoulder to a pouting woman. She has always managed to make her presence felt.

And, in the very act of being herself and challenging ideas about what a woman is “supposed” to wear, she has taught us the importance of being yourself no matter what.

In another hit song by her, “Chudi”(Bracelets), we see a group of young girls living together. They talk about all kinds of things, including falling in love.

What was portrayed may not have been radical, but what is remarkable is the way in which female relationships were portrayed.

Falguni let these friendships flourish, never stealing the show and yet establishing his own presence in them. This is what I find remarkable and, in a way, heartwarming.

As the 90s were a difficult time to deviate from the norms of heteronormativity in whatever form. Falguni’s creativity in his music videos remains proof of his fearlessness.

Section 377 has been read, but …

Since her, we have hardly seen any queer representation in the traditional Indian music industry. Even with the reading down of section 377, there is very little general public visibility of the non-heteronormative identities arising from these identities.

Of course, there have been movies like “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” lately. We saw the blossoming of a gay romance in the movie. However, the movie had other problematic tropes including crass jokes about being gay, poking fun at disability, bragging about caste, and more.

A photo from the film, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. Photo credit: indiatvnews.com

He failed to grasp the complexity of what it means not to conform (to heterosexuality) in a country like India. “Aligarh” is a good example of what sensitive queer cinema can look like, but like most queer media characters, its protagonist ends up taking his own life.

Coming back to how music videos, in addition to complementing songs, help to comfort audiences: there are many such videos out there around the world that when viewed by people offer them immense freedom.

The power of visuals

You can feel represented. Whether or not you are truly free, watching the people in the clip be themselves, you can feel lighter and freer.

One of those videos, “We Fell In Love In October” by Norwegian artist Girl in Red, has a certain heat. It shows two women in love in the fall (fall). The colors used in the video slowly blend into the surroundings.

There is an acceptance that comes with imagery… An acceptance that seeks acceptance from no one else, but from two people in love. The sweetness of their love matches that of October.

In fact, Ali Sethi’s music, of Pakistani descent, has queer themes as well. Although Ali has never verbalized his homosexuality, it shows in his clips.

His heartwarming songs, whether it’s recently released “Rung” or a relatively older song, “Chandni Raat”, celebrate various types of love throughout the music video.

The clip has the ability to provide a home for someone watching it, someone who doesn’t have that comfort in their real life.

The power that a visual can have over its audience is immense. A few minutes of comfort can help overcome many hours of struggle.

Featured image is for representation purposes only. Photo credit: Falguni Pathak, Facebook.

To note: The author is part of the Sept-Oct ’21 batch of Writer training program.



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