Jaydeep Sarkar’s docu-series breaks stereotypes to depict the ordinary and extraordinary facets of queer relationships
The LGBTQI+ narrative in Hindi cinema has often been confined to one-dimensional portrayals, dominated by repetitive coming-out tales that preach about the queer experience in our country. While there’s a pressing need for educating India on acceptance and the whole adage of ‘love is love,’ the first step towards this acceptance lies in recognizing that their stories mirror ours, filled with the universal emotions of longing, heartbreak, mundane bickering and social condemnation for anything the world-at-large doesn’t understand.
The gist is love is hard as it is, even more so if you’re a queer couple where simple dreams like living together with dignity in a home you can call your own can also seem impossible. Rainbow Rishta, created by Jaydeep Sarkar — known for Khoya Khoya Chand (2007), Nayantara’s Necklace (2014) and Feels Like Ishq (2021) — is a docu-series comprising six beautiful stories of people in love who go through the travails of being queer in a country where love is not simply love, but much less and much more.
The diverse ensemble of the series include Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, a doctor-influencer-actor and Lush Monsoon, a drag queen and human rights lawyer, also known as Aishwarya Ayushmaan. Adding a layer of spirited energy to the mix is Daniella Mendonca, an intersex woman, and her fiancé Joel, who are about to get married. Meanwhile, Aneez and Sanam, a young lesbian couple from Guwahati, set out on a quest for a home where they can live openly. There’s also Sadam Hanjabam, an activist from Imphal, and Soham and Suresh, a gay couple who’ve been with each other for six years now.
The many shades of love
Ayushmaan, in pursuit of love, grapples with the complexities of hiding his identity from his parents, while simultaneously contemplating the risks of coming out. Trinetra, on the other hand, explores online dating in search of a love that ticks all the boxes. In Imphal, Hanjabam deals with the lingering aftermath of past trauma that refuses to loosen its grip. Meanwhile, Soham and Suresh strive to fortify their bond through therapeutic means. Each member of the cast has to fight their own battle in their own way.
Queerness in India has often been perceived through the lenses of exoticism or as a catalyst for activism, but seldomly through a place of acceptance. Rainbow Rishta endeavours to construct a mosaic of the ordinary, portraying the everyday routine that encompasses both the rainbow-hued hurdles and the commonplace challenges of regular life.
Through six episodes, the series chronicles the journeys of its cast and the complexities of their relationships as they confront life head-on, with each episode serving as a window into the intimate lives of these individuals, granting us unfettered access to their experiences, their moments of grief and joy. Sarkar, with a keen directorial eye, captures the rawness of vulnerability; he weaves introspective interviews with poignant scenes that portray their everyday lives — moments that resonate deeply as we witness their battles, tears, and celebrations.
Each frame in the series becomes a canvas where the authentic human experience is artfully depicted, inviting viewers to connect with the emotions that underscore the universal journey of love, loss, and resilience. It leaves you with the realisation that love is the most powerful force in the world, no matter how insignificant Indian society may deem it to be. Just like straight love stories, it’s all about choosing each other through battles, challenges and adversities.
Celebrating the beauty of queer love
As Sadam candidly shares the harrowing tale of his meth overdose, the subsequent police intervention, and the involuntary unveiling of his identity, a profound sense of empathy envelops your heart. His narrative, etched with indelible sorrow and trauma, resonates deeply, forging a connection that transcends mere sympathy.
On the contrasting spectrum of emotions, witnessing Aneez and Sanam revel in the joy of finally acquiring a home fills your heart to the brim. Sarkar adeptly elicits a spectrum of emotions from the audience, skillfully tapping into the wellspring of empathy. This capacity to connect emotionally is invaluable; it makes us humane, and shows us a potential world where love thrives, and becomes a better place for humanity to flourish.
Love, after all, is the cornerstone that propels the world toward its inherent goodness. The failure in legalising same-sex marriage haunts the series, as it comes around the same time, a reminder of the inequality we impose on these people who, just like us, are filled with love and dreams, but are faced with gazillion challenges in their quest to find both.
Rainbow Rishta marks the initiation of a cinematic era that celebrates the beauty of queer love, inviting us, as spectators, to share in their moments of joy and sorrow. While it might seem audacious to hope for more, perhaps the next stride in this progression is a queer romantic comedy. Regardless of the genre, cinema stands as a profound medium capable of stirring emotions, and crafting affecting films is undoubtedly the only way forward.