September 6, 2018 was a historic day for India as the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality and partly scrapped Section 377. The verdict sparked celebrations across the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) community, who have been fighting a long battle for equality and the right to love.
Interestingly, the late actress Sridevi has been an inspiration to a generation of queer people, who grew up watching her films. Her unusual appearances, along with her outlandish costumes and dance steps set them free. Sridevi’s characters in films always had shades of grey and this resonated with members of the LGBTQIA community.
After her death in February this year, journalist and queer activist Dhrubo Jyoti wrote in a daily, “When our homes were prisons and our families chains, Sridevi set us free. Her songs gave us fleeting glimpses of how the world would be if we could dance like we wanted to, and wear the clothes our hearts desired. In her often garish, kitschy performances, we saw the promise of a future where we wouldn’t lie about who we were and what we liked.”
In ChaalBaaz, Sridevi’s character is called Anju, who suffers endless oppression and abuse at the hands of her uncle. Her only form of escape is dance, that she practises in secrecy. One day at a party, Anju breaks into a dance that intensifies into a tandav, which ends with a slap on her uncle’s face. This is seen as a dramatic moment of triumph against an invincible oppressor.
Harish Iyer, popular LGBT activist who first came in the limelight in 2012 on the TV show Satyamev Jayate, hosted by actor Aamir Khan, is a Sridevi fan. Sridevi made a special appearance on the show to meet Iyer, who spoke about his child sexual abuse.
Aamir, incidentally, tweeted that episode of Satyamev Jayate yesterday, in his post hailing the Supreme Court judgment on Section 377. Aamir wrote, “We thank the Supreme Court for its decision to strike down article 377. It is a historic day for people who believe in equal rights for all. The judiciary has done its duty, and now we must do ours.”
We thank the Supreme Court for its decision to strike down article 377. It is a historic day for people who believe in equal rights for all. The judiciary has done it’s duty, and now we must do ours. https://t.co/zzxc4kfNxS
— Aamir Khan (@aamir_khan) September 6, 2018
Harish said in an interview to author Lalita Iyer (whose book on Sridevi will be hitting the bookstores soon), “Whenever we are challenged with anything in life, cinema serves as an escape mechanism. For me, it was so important to build this alternative reality around me, especially at a time when I was getting raped and coming home. For me, to forget all that and believe in a world where anything was possible was very important, and Sridevi made me believe in that.”
“When Nagina, the movie, released, I was young and impressionable. I witnessed Sridevi break into a “nagin dance” when Amrish Puri aka the “Snake Charmer” had come to disarm her. Her dance unconsciously portrayed my angst. I was mad at the world for trying to condition me. I was more than just a man. My feminine side wanted to be like her,” said Harish.
Sridevi died on February 24 this year, after accidentally drowning in a bathtub in her hotel suite in Dubai where she had gone to attend a family wedding. A state funeral was held for her on February 28, and thousands of fans came to pay their last respects to Chandni.
This article was first published here.