377 Ab Normal movie review: Indian LGBTQ community deserves a better film than this patchy, soulless affair
When ever-dependable actors like Ayub and Tanvi Azmi deliver deeply disappointing performances in 377 Ab Normal, you know there is just no soul in the project.
castZeeshan Ayub, Shashank Arora, Maanvi Gagroo, Sid Makkar, Tanvi Azmi, Mohan Kapur And Kumud Mishra
In his historic judgment overruling Section 377 last year, former Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra said, “Look for the rainbow in every crowd… Equality and liberty and this freedom can only be fulfilled when each of us realizes LGBT community has the same rights as other citizens”. Repealing of the law that was formed in 1860 released thousands of Indians from the fear of prosecution and legal discrimination.
Director Faruk Kabir’s Zee5 Original 377 Ab Normal follows years of litigation to decriminalise homosexuality. Only, it focuses its lens on the lives and loves of those most affected by Section 377 and the social stigma that the LGBTQ community has been saddled with for years. The story is inspired by the Navtej Singh Johar vs Union of India case from 2018, where a five-judge constitutional bench of India’s Supreme Court listened to the pleas of five petitioners across four days. In the film, there are four petitioners and the script follows each one of their back-stories.
The central story is loosely based on Lucknow man, Arif Jafar (Zeeshan Ayub), who was arrested from his Bharosa Trust office, a community-based NGO that provided information and counseling for AIDS awareness. Amongst those being educated on safe sex are also homosexual and transgender people, and Jafar gets targeted by a bigoted establishment for being a homosexual himself. He gets incarcerated for propagating ideas around “unnatural sex” and spends 17 years in jail.
Another thread revolves around Pallav (Shashank Arora), who is coming to terms with his sexuality, dealing with heartbreak and struggling to make peace with his family who want to get him ‘treated for his disease’. And has just turned 18.
Shalmili’s (Maanvi Gagroo) college romance with her friend Nisha blossoms while watching Ismat Chughtai’s most celebrated yet controversial Lihaaf. When Shalmili comes out to her mother (Tanvi Azmi), she is upset but for reasons that the young girl had not expected.
Rounding up the quartet of petitioners, there is Keshav (Sid Makkar), a rich Delhi nightclub owner who is pushed by a partner to fight for equality after the tragic Orlando shootings. Facing off against each other in the court of law are Narendra Kaushal (Kumud Mishra), who believes that homosexuality is a threat to the fabric of India and Rastogi (Mohan Kapoor), a Mozart aficionado who believes in all loves being equal.
377 Ab Normal tells a very important story from a community that has been silenced for too long. The problem, though, is that the film is let down by almost every department of filmmaking. The writing is shoddy, riddled with clichés and the dialogues are crass. You know how bad the writing is when a character says, “I want to fight the law and I want to fight it legally.” The script lacks any depth and the characters are all pretty much one-note. The acting is very patchy and it is sad when the only performance that stays with you after the film is Shashank Arora’s, because you cannot get over how badly he wants to be Shah Rukh Khan and how wildly unsuccessful he is.
A better director would have elicited something, anything, with this material and cast. When ever-dependable actors like Ayub and Tanvi Azmi deliver deeply disappointing performances, you know there is just no soul in the project. The five petitioners, who took this case up to the Supreme Court in 2018 and landed a historic verdict that would overturn 150 years of oppression, are modern day heroes who deserve a better film than this.
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