Evening Shadows is a vivid portrayal of a coming out story that's as warm as it is raw and complex

Sandip Roy

Jan 11, 2019 10:43:06 IST

Section 377 has a cameo appearance in Evening Shadows but the film makes a much more pressing point. The law is important but what matters finally is love, whether it is the love between two men or the love between a mother and a son.

A still from Evening Shadows

A still from Evening Shadows

As a story, Evening Shadows is a familiar one, an age old coming out story. Kartik is the beloved son, the apple of his mother’s eye and the repository of his father’s ambitions, but they do not know his deepest secret. She thinks of his partner Aman as his roommate. When Kartik comes home after four years, they try to set him up with a childhood friend and predictably, the trip goes off the rails as he tussles with the need to come clean to his clueless family about who he really is. The saga of shock and acceptance is no less real for being familiar. The angst of the sensitive son craving for acceptance by his family, terrified of losing everything that was precious to him, is no less wrenching for being all too predictable.

Director Sridhar Rangayan, who co-wrote the screenplay with Saagar Gupta, is both a filmmaker and a longtime LGBT activist. That means the film avoids the pitfalls that bedevil many such films, even well-intentioned ones. There are no cringeworthy comparisons of sexuality with disability. There is no strange subplot of gay men seducing their best girl-friend’s husband. Even the campy queens are just campy instead of caricatures for cheap laughs and they give the film one of its most pithy one-liners – “Queens and moms love suffering.”  The film touches on the trauma of those leading double lives, married with children, yet seeking sex with men on the side. At a few points, it might feel a bit like a manual for a PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) group as it goes through the checklist of responses that thousands of gay men have faced in their coming out stories.  But this is not normal, is it? Are you a hijra? What will I tell people? What will people say? Being gay is about sex. What will happen when you grow old?

Yet the film tries to be about something more than Gay 101. It is about small towns and tradition. It is about a woman who has sublimated all her passions and desires into being the perfect wife and mother, the one who, as the title song by Shubha Mudgal goes, is like a river – "behti hai, sahti hai". It is about the allure and weight of a secure life and a good job. It is about a father who expects to never be questioned. It is about  the treadmill of “correct time marriage means correct time bachcha”. It is about the dead weight of great expectations. And it is about what happens when any of this is disrupted.

Rangayan’s depiction of a close-knit family, and its small town rituals, is vivid. One can understand why Kartik is unable to just walk away from it. Mona Ambegaonkar has justly won plaudits at international festivals for her impassioned performance as the mother whose love for her son must undergo its most severe test. But it is also the most empathetic role, the one that naturally tugs at the heart. Devansh Doshi as Kartik spends much of the film looking puppy-dog anguished, all quivering lip and furrowed brow. But the stellar performance is Ananth Mahadevan as the rigid father. His scenes of confrontation with his son carry the most electric charge and tension. Yet, to the credit of the film, it stops short of making him a soap-opera monster bully patriarch. In one of the most touching scenes of the film, he watches a film on television, and remembers a happier time when he and his wife and son had gone to see it in the theatre as a young couple.  It is moments like this that give the film its heart. When Kartik tells his mother “I’m sorry” he is really apologising for turning that world, so familiar, so comfortably set in its ways, upside down. His mother wonders whether it was better not to have known. “What to tell people now that I know?” she asks, a question that surely comes straight from lived experience.

The film sometimes feels a little too anxious to ensure it makes all the right noises. The relationship between Kartik and Aman comes across as a little too happily-ever-after “committed forever” perfect, all cutesy and “what’s my hunksy doing”. But that is probably to allay stereotypes that such relationships are not possible in a fog of sex and cruising. The film wears its heart on its sleeve and sometimes seems too determined to put the best gay face forward for the larger mainstream. But it is also opening up a door in post-377 India to more stories of greater rawness and complexity.

Evening Shadows, in a way, is the film to take home to mother. It is about the umbilical cord between mothers and sons. It is the coming out film that many gay men and women probably wish they had when they struggled to have the conversation with their families. And they will surely recognise pieces of themselves in it.

But one word of advice, while there is rarely a perfect place to come out, doing it on a rowboat is especially risky. Kids, do not try that at home.

Updated Date: Jan 11, 2019 10:43:06 IST