The Coming Out Of Lailaa-Manju
The strikingly frank short film is crowd-funded, and queer-made
“Coming Out” is a dangerous phrase for people who have alternative sexual orientation and preferences. Society has not matured enough to accept such changes and a ‘coming out’ declaration is like walking on fragile glass that may shatter into shardsm taking along, of little pieces of your life with it.
‘Lailaa-Manju’ is a short film directed by Kamya N. The film has already been screened across ten film festivals. The dedicated team has already toured with the film across India where people who have missed the screening come forward to ask the team when and where they can watch the film.
Within a span of 60 minutes, ‘Lailaa-Manju’ talks about how, between two close friends who become lovers along the way, one gives the courage and the power to the other to come out of her closeted self, and tell her mother what her ‘problem’ is. The film closes on that positive note.
The treatment is cheerful, happy, and positive but extremely subtle and low key. This, though the two girls Lailaa and Manju are also struggling with feelings of guilt not for their homosexual orientations but for keeping it a secret from their families.
This guilt is universal among all young boys and girls who are into any relationship, be it heterosexual or homosexual, because of the social conditioning we have been brought up in. But of course it is much more difficult when partners of the same sex fall in love, and wish to consummate the relationship as they are confident of their mindsets and their choices.
On a slow, hot day, during Mumbai’s first COVID-19 lockdown, 21-year-old Manju sets out to apologise to her friend and the love of her life Lailaa. She has to reaffirm their love and avoid a conversation with Manju’s formidable mother (Shilpa Tulaskar), who is an educated, physically fit typical Maharashtrian housewife who has been suspecting the relationship for quite some time but does not know how to confront her daughter.
She has seen them getting close in Manju’s bedroom. But she has no clue how to confront the situation or handle it. So, finally, it becomes the responsibility of the daughter to confront the mother and she does it. The film ends on that touching and open note.
The story has been told. The treatment is slow, steady and languorous if the word can be used in pacing of a film and the social ambience of a middle-class Maharashtrian family is established very well. Even the death of the grandmother (Suhas Joshi) is presented with great subtlety and directorial control.
The actors and director had put in at least three months of rehearsals on the scenes. They left certain non-verbal scenes for the final day because they believed spontaneous reactions would work the best.
Tanvi and Mansi, who portrayed the two girls, put an effort into living in that relationship for a while, so the director and actor arranged for day-outs where they got to know each other. They also worked on references like the delightful film ‘Kajillionaire’ by Miranda July among others.
‘Lailaa Manju’ takes you into the heart of a middle-class Marathi family that’s not as heteronormative as it looks. A feel-good drama-comedy, a mother-daughter story, and a film about acceptance, it redefines the changing landscape for queer coming out as a standard part of the human experience, and the Indian experience.
There’s also Covid-19, which has altered the scope and realities of our lives and relationships across generations,” says the press note on the film.
To the question, “Why choose Laila Manju as the name which sounds too close to the tragic love legend Laila-Majnu?” the director, Kamya N, said, “That’s precisely the reason why! I wanted to make the love story feel old and familiar. ‘Lailaa Manju’ is a special take on 'Layla Majnun', the old Arabic folktale about a pair of doomed star-crossed lovers. Majnun is in love with Layla and this love drives him crazy, so much so that he becomes irrevocably "Majnun" (possessed).
“Our story draws from this legend, with one profound difference, Manju is a girl. We look to our legends and myths to make new ones, so we can make a queer couple's love as magical and powerful as it can be.
“Through ‘Lailaa Manju’, we have set out to break down barriers and challenge societal norms, inviting viewers to embark on a transformative journey that will leave an indelible mark on their hearts. We believe that representation matters profoundly, and our film offers a poignant depiction of queer lives, embracing the nuances and complexities that exist within our community by the community itself.”
Kamya N. is a freelance writer-director who dreams of being a filmmaker with a chance of making and being a part of important stories. Her statement on the film is, “I believe queer relationships need not always be star-crossed, impossibly challenged or hyper-real. We have had too many stories of queer suffering and not nearly enough about the margins in which healing happens, creative muses are found and life begins.
“My team and I have created a story about women in their spaces, connected with the things that matter to them. We have brought to life a fully realised female gaze in the local tongue (Marathi.)”
‘Laila-Manju’ is a crowd-funded, queer-made film, which means that much of the crew identify as queer and want their stories out there, told in the way they want to tell it. The film was shot over seven days between two lockdowns and though we can decipher this from the visual narrative, the editing is smooth and seamless and there are no jars or jerks except in metaphorical terms.
It took two long and struggling years in the making from concept to screen. “Our film has the potential to touch hearts, challenge perceptions, and drive meaningful change. Together, we can create a powerful ripple effect, amplifying the voices and stories that have often been marginalised or misunderstood,” stated the press note.
According to Kamya, who identifies with the subject, “there have been countless victims and incidents of abuse on the behest of ‘family’ even without the ‘coming out’ conversation in India.
“It’s not just fraught and complicated, it is outright dangerous and has cost lives here. Here we have a culture of bringing our spouses home to family, there’s an economic and sociological system that’s grafted into our community that does not believe lives are always mounted on ‘freedoms’ like ‘love’.
“Marriage is a moral argument, a social argument, a physical argument and most importantly an argument of procreation, the propagation of one’s bloodline. Marriage is security. It’s hard to beat these hard-nosed practical convictions and argue for the dignity of queer love and identity.
“Not only are queer folk here burdened with the signalled truth of non-acceptance, but also without any grounds to grant them that dignity as same-sex unions are still not legitimised. So of course, I don’t need to say it – coming out is extremely difficult.
“‘Lailaa- Manju’ is made with the fervent hope to give queer love that dignity. The dream here is to become mundane and unexceptional. Through Lailaa Manju, we have set out to break down barriers and challenge societal norms, inviting viewers to embark on a transformative journey that will leave an indelible mark on their hearts.
“We believe that representation matters profoundly, and our film offers a poignant depiction of queer lives, embracing the nuances and complexities that exist within our community by the community itself. We firmly believe that our film has the potential to touch hearts, challenge perceptions, and drive meaningful change. Together, we can create a powerful ripple effect, amplifying the voices and stories that have often been marginalised or misunderstood.”