When the Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das movie Fire released in 1988, there was a huge fuss around it. At that time, I (and the many people around me) didn’t know what 'lesbian', 'gay' or 'queer' meant. Thankfully, there has been a shift over time and it can be witnessed in the society's perception towards and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and also how their life and relationships are normalised through conversations, media and movies. In the past few years, we have been treated to a host of shows and movies that explore queer relationships in the most real way.
If you’re looking for some amazing movies and web series that celebrate relationships between women, here’s what you should watch.
Released in 1998, this Deepa Mehta film was way ahead of its time for its portrayal of the LGBTQIA+ community. It is the story of two women, Sita (Nandita Das) and Radha (Shabana Azmi), who find themselves in a loveless marriage. While Sita is in an arranged marriage with an unfaithful husband, Radha is married to his brother, a radical who believes in suppressing desire. The two women, who find themselves in similar situations, start to get closer and their relationship becomes something none could have ever imagined. The movie, in a way, set the tone for and laid the foundation for the liberal and progressive world that we live in today, though, at that time, it was met with a lot of protests.
Much before the Wachowskis could wow the world with The Matrix, the two sisters gave the world one of the finest queer films the audience had ever seen. This heist thriller stars Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly as Corky and Violet, respectively. Corky seems to fancy Violet when she fixes a leak in her boyfriend’s apartment (a gangster named Caeser) and begins a secret love affair with her. Over time, the pair decide to run away together, steal money from Caeser’s bosses, and pin all the blame on him. At that time the makers hired a queer sex educator named Susie Bright to choreograph the sex scenes between Corky and Violet.
But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)
Here’s a love story that’s as sweet as it is sexy. This film from the late 90s revolves around the life of a teenage cheerleader named Megan (Natasha Lyonne) whose orthodox family suspect she is gay. Though she is initially shocked, she realises her parents are right after she visits a conversion therapy camp called True Directions. She eventually falls head over heels for fellow camper Graham (Clea DuVall) and soon begins to question herself for her choices. The movie portrays this dilemma and their chemistry in the most sensitive and artistic manner.
Margarita with a Straw (2014)
Directed by Shonali Bose, this was a coming-of-age film that depicted the relationship between Laila Kapoor, an Indian teenager (played by Kalki Koechlin) with cerebral palsy who moves to the USA to complete her graduation, and Khanum, a blind Pakistani woman. Laila goes through a journey of discovery about her sexuality when she develops feelings for Khanum. It’s a feeling that’s completely new for her as she’s never been in a relationship before or fallen for a woman. This movie that depicts same-sex relationships is a sweet and sincere story that also tackles the issues of disability and inclusion.
The Handmaiden (2016)
He might have made a name for himself in the horror genre, but acclaimed Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook went down a different route when he adapted Sarah Waters’s historical novel Fingersmith. Set in Korea during the 1930s, Sook-Hee (Kim Tae-ri), a young Korean woman works as a handmaiden for Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a Japanese woman with a fortune to her name. Hired by Count Fujiwara, a con man, who sends Sook to Hideko so that she can convince her to marry him (he plays to scam her), Sook develops feelings for Hideko that stands to ruin the entire plan.
This is a landmark film, and for good reason. The movie revolves around the romance between two teenage women, Kena and Ziki, from Kenya, where homosexuality is illegal. What adds to the drama is the two are daughters of rival candidates in a local election. While the girls get close, the cut-throat competition between their fathers only heightens. Director Wanuri Kahiu’s debut film became the very first Kenyan film to premiere at Cannes and also saw her win a historic court case against a Kenyan anti-LGBT legislation.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019)
Set in late 18th century France, this film revolves around the affair between two women—an aristocrat and an artist commissioned to paint a portrait of her. Young painter Marianne is commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse without her knowledge. The only way to do this is for her is to observe her during the day and paint her portrait at night. As the two women spend time together, they start getting intimate and the portrait eventually becomes a sign of their true love.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)
The film, features Sonam Kapoor in the lead role as Sweety Chaudhary, a queer who comes out to her Punjabi family. Regina Cassandra plays Kuhu, her partner. The movie sent out the message that same sex love is natural and beautiful and must be respected. After all, embracing love in any form makes life so beautiful. At the end of the day, you’ve got one life and no one can stop you from loving who you want to love.
Feel Good (2020-2021)
Feel Good is about Mae (played by Mae Martin), who is a queer comedian and their girlfriend, George. Mae’s is non-binary and identifies as bi in real life. In the first season we see how the two met and how George knows about Mae's past drug addiction. While Mae’s addiction causes a lot of problems, it’s also George’s unwillingness to come out and tell her friends and family about her relationship that forms the crux of the first two seasons.
It’s a show that everyone loves. Along with watching how a group of teenagers navigate love, drugs, and money in the quest to find their identity, audiences also loved how the LGBTQ+ community was represented. Zendaya plays Rue Bennett, a non-binary 17-year-old, who is struggling with drug addiction and identifies as a queer. It was refreshing to watch her tell her therapist that she thinks her need to be ‘feminine’ has been a result of the male gaze and that she prefers women over men. The character of Jules Vaughn is shown to believe that men validate her womanhood until she meets Rue and realises that she not only likes women but also doesn’t need to be with men to be considered a real woman.