Long Distance: Anoop Lokkur's short lesbian film explores a familiar reality for unmarried Indian women
Long Distance was one of the shorts, and one of over 240 films, screened at the recently concluded Outfest Los Angeles.
It’s a conversation that I, and any young Indian woman, have had with their mothers. Once they have reached the ‘marriageable age’, it’s rare to find a moment when the family isn't talking about how all the acchhe ladke (good boys) are taken, how so-and-so is already pregnant with her second child and how Mrs XYZ has a rishta in mind for you. It’s a conversation that acquires some urgency when the daughter in question is living away from home.
This conversation forms the crux of Long Distance, a seven-minute short about an Indian lesbian in Australia in conversation with her mother back home. It starts off innocently enough with them talking about work and exchanging news, but quickly moves to the dangerous topic, for the (perceived) single woman, of marriage. Aayushi follows a script most Indian women are familiar with: trying to deflect. What’s relatable about her character is her relationship with her mother, and the struggle to maintain the expectation of being a ‘good Indian daughter’ while leading a different life in reality. It makes you question how much would you lie to people you care about just to please them.
Long Distance was one of the shorts, and one of over 240 films, screened at the recently concluded Outfest Los Angeles. The LGBTQ film festival was created by Outfest, a non-profit organisation that promotes LGBTQ equality by creating and sharing their stories on screen. Held annually, the festival screens films from countries across the world – shorts, narrative features, documentaries, episodics and centerpieces.
This year’s edition had a fair amount of Asian representation. Pakistani-Canadian director Fawzia Mirza – her first feature, Signature Move, starred Shabana Azmi – had a short titled, I Know Her. A panel titled Queer Crazy Asians discussed the challenges and the "honour" of being Asian. Indian-born independent artist-filmmaker, Neelu Bhuman, presented an omnibus of magical realistic short stories called Tranfinite.
Long Distance was shown with six other shorts, as part of a package titled Take These Lives and Make Them True. The common theme among the films was queer people with a strong sense of identity that are forced to hide it from their loved ones.
The film was in Hindi, with English subtitles, and it received appreciative applause when it ended. The subtitles were good enough for the audience to get most of the humour.
Long Distance released in January this year. The film premiered in India at Kashish Film Festival, and has done the rounds of other international film festivals. Everywhere, the audience reactions have been one of empathy and familiarity. “One thing that stood out to me watching the film with a live audience at Palm Springs Film Festival and talking to them afterwards was that no matter where they were from or what their background was or how old they were, they could all relate to the film and the conversation,” says director, Melbourne-based filmmaker Anoop Lokkur. “I think this conversation is universal especially for Indian children.”
Lokkur drew on his own conversations with his mother for the film. “The idea came to me one night after talking to my mother. She asked me how my job was; I said that it was going well when in reality I'd been sitting in my living room most of the day trying to come up with ideas for a short film. By the end of the call, I was struck by how many lies I had told her just to satisfy her expectations of me,” he says. Once the idea had formed in his head, he wrote it down straight away in a couple of minutes. A friend convinced him the story had merit and to film.
Lokkur wrote the script in Kannada but finding actors who spoke the language in Melbourne was difficult, so he changed it to Hindi. The film was shot in his house over a single day, and post-production was easy as the entire film is a single continuous shot.
In August, Long Distance will premiere in Australia at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Lokkur is now working on turning Long Distance into a feature. It will be interesting to see where Aayushi’s conversations with her mother take her. Will her truth ever come to light?
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