Real Life Story

Why I Made a Film on Inter-Caste Love Between Queer Women

Topics: Same-Sex,Starting Out,Dating,Getting Serious

Director Neeraj Ghaywan on the set of “Geeli Pucchi” with Konkona Sen Sharma. Photo: Courtesy of Neeraj Ghaywan

Director Neeraj Ghaywan takes us through his short film for Netflix that sensitively navigates the intersection of queerness, casteism and love.

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In a country like India, being queer is an everyday rebellion. If you add being a religious or caste minority to one’s queer identity, the constant feeling of being “the other” can get doubly underlined.

Neeraj Ghaywan – the director and writer who made his debut with Masaan (Fly Away Solo), which was screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes film festival in 2015 – made Geeli Pucchi (Wet Kiss) as part of the Netflix anthology Ajeeb Dastaans (Strange Stories) that released in May 2021. Much like Masaan, Geeli Pucchi also exploresh the dynamics of a lower-caste person falling in love with an upper-caste one.

In the acclaimed short film, Bharti – a Dalit worker – falls in love with Priya – a privileged Brahmin data operator – at the factory they work at. When Bharti reveals her outcast status to Priya, she finds out that Priya is inherently casteist and would prefer to hold her caste privilege over realising her queerness.

“The idea of Geeli Pucchi came to me when I was working on Masaan,” Ghaywan told VICE. “I was working on creating the character of someone who has to process the nihilism of life and is disgruntled with everything else around her.”

Over the years, Ghaywan fleshed out this character from the lenses of caste and gender. Initially, he said, Geeli Pucchi was supposed to be bleak, drawing inspiration from the angst of the narratives found in the films of Finnish screenwriter Aki Kaurismäki such as the 1996 film Drifting Clouds, where a couple loses their jobs but is too proud to seek help from the social welfare system.

“I’ve always been moved by subjects of intersectionality and we don’t have many traces of it in mainstream Indian cinema,” Ghaywan explained, of the intersection between casteism and queerness in Geeli Pucchi. “Fundamentally, we’re all living intersectional lives and we don’t experience one specific marginalisation in isolation because there are many marginalisations that we live in unison.”

The idea that one could have an association with someone by virtue of their queerness but could still be regressive in their other ideals was something Ghaywan heavily explores in the film. “You could have a left-liberal who might have a separate cup for their house help. Many people might have grown up watching their parents or grandparents do it, but the roots of it all stem from caste.”

Even at work, the character of Bharti is marginalised by virtue of her lower caste — her supervisors clearly favour Priya despite the fact that she is not efficient.

“We see that Priya is in denial about her queerness and she likes to believe that what she experiences with Bharti is just a higher form of friendship,” he said.

“Masaan” and “Geeli Pucchi” director Neeraj Ghaywan. Photo: Courtesy of Neeraj Ghaywan

Why do people like Priya always prioritise their caste privilege over their queerness? Ghaywan said that this can be attributed to years of social conditioning, among other reasons. “An upper caste gay man who feels marginalised will naturally derive a lot of cultural and social capital by virtue of his caste and would want to hold on to it,” he added. “Such people are able to de-compartmentalise their social beliefs from their queerness.”

Ghaywan’s decision to use a “love story” to highlight the intersection of caste and queerness comes from his understanding of love.

“The way one loves is usually the same because it’s the core of the human experience — to love someone with all the passion in the world,” he said. “But I wanted to show how caste can become so ingrained into your DNA, that it surpasses even love, which is supposed to be the highest form of emotion.”

The way he sees it, the power of caste runs so deep that it ends up dehumanising the person you love.

“Priya suddenly checks out when she finds out that Bharti is Dalit. What else can convince you of casteism other than the fact that even the truest form of love holds itself back when caste comes into play?”

The movie ends with the character of Bharti reclaiming her space, respect and asserting her identity. Priya chooses the easy way out because she’s unable to compartmentalise her casteism from love.

Ghaywan said that he cannot project his idealism on the character’s judgements. But falling in love and existing happily is a decision we can all make, each on our own.

In the scenes where Bharti and Priya are in love, it almost appears to the viewers that they are both caste-agnostic – they click cheerful selfies together, stop by on the road to have street food, walk in the garden and have deep conversations by sitting near a lake. In one of the scenes, while wolfing down street food, Priya shares her “friendship” with another friend from her college days. There is laughter, they tease each other, and love brews. This is what they could have had if Priya chose love over caste.

Source: Arman Khan, VICE.

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