Throwback Thursday: Films like 'The Children's Hour', 'Bomgay' were pioneers of LGBT issues

Ankita Maneck

Jun 16, 2016 18:54:01 IST

Following the worst mass shooting in modern American history, the debate on LGBT rights has come into focus across the world.

While the candidates of the US presidential election are contemplating their stance on the issue, support has been pouring in from across the world on social media. India lags behind with shadow of section 377 looming above its head.

And so, to cut out to negativity with some good old cinema, here is a list of movies that tried to bring into focus the controversial LGBT issues throughout the years:

Different From The Others (1919)

 Throwback Thursday: Films like The Childrens Hour, Bomgay were pioneers of LGBT issues

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Possibly the world’s first outright gay movie, Anders als die Andern, made in 1919, is a silent black and white German masterpiece. Paul Körner(Conrad Veidt), a successful violinist is trying to woo his young charge Kurt Sievers(Fritz Schulz). A blackmailer confronts Körner. Things take an ugly turn when Körner’s homosexuality come to light, and he is jailed because of his past homosexual liaisons (it was a crime in Germany back then).

Though he is freed, Körner ends up committing suicide because of the shame, and Kurt Sievers, his lover, vows to fight paragraph 175 (equivalent to our nefarious Section 377) and fight for justice. The film uses science to explain that being gay was a part of human nature and was one of the first movies to have a sympathetic view on homosexuality.

The copies of the film were destroyed in the Nazi regime of Germany, save a few, thanks to gay rights advocate and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, who had yanked some of the films' footage to make his own film and inserted them into his own feature.

The Children’s Hour (1961)

The Children's Hour/Flickr/CC

The Children's Hour/Flickr/CC

Audrey Hepburn teams up with Shirley MacLaine for this 1961 drama, set in a private school for girls. Audrey Hepburn as Karen, and Shirley MacLaine as Martha, are two friends who run a private school for girls. All is well till a student accuses them of having an unnatural relationship. Tried in court, and shamed by the parents for their alleged affair, the accusation changes their lives irrevocably.

The Children's Hour was released at a time when it was illegal for the word ‘homosexuality’ to be mentioned on stage or screen, but because of the success of the movie, coupled with the star billing, the law wasn’t enforced.

The implied relation between the two women managed to draw in a huge audience and fan fare. The movie was based on Lillian Hellman's play of the same name, which was inspired by an incident involving two Scottish headmistresses.  The play, though not overtly promoting homosexuality, was banned in a few famous theatre communities and cities: leading with London, Boston and Chicago.

Funeral Parade of Roses (1969)

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Funeral Parade of Roses is Toshio Matsumoto first feature-length work, and it is a highly stylized film mixed with numerous camera styles.

The plot of the film has a heavy oedipal theme to it. It follows Eddie (Pita), a transvestite who is an entertainer at Genet Bar, who is in love the owner of Genet, Gonda (Yoshio Tsuchiya). Leda (Osamu Ogasawara), the hostess of the bar is Eddie’s competitor for Gonda’s affections. The movie hovers between the fictional story and reality of a documentary where drag queens and drug users are shown the film and asked questions about their lives.

The movie was heavily censored during its limited release in Japan. This avant-grade flick packs a punch and has inspired the likes of Stanley Kubrick to create his masterpiece A Clockwork Orange.

Umbartha (1982)



Smita Patil, plays the role of the titular character Sulabha in Umbartha (The Threshold). Sulabha leads a comfortable middle class life with her lawyer husband (played by Girish Karnad) but a chance to be the warden of a women’s home makes her rethink her priorities. She is unconventional in her role as a warden which leads to friction with the management.

The highlight of the movie is a lesbian relationship, which is showcased between two inmates, that turns into a scandal that is widely discussed by the press and local government.

The movie is one of the first to hint at a homosexual relationship in its plot line. Though the context in which the relationship is discussed is negative, Umbartha takes a step in the right direction by discussing taboo subjects way ahead of its time.

Bomgay (1996)

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Bomgay is a 1996 Indian anthology of short films directed by Riyad Vinci Wadia. The movie stars Kushal Punjabi and Rahul Bose. It consists of six vignettes, each on a poem by Indian writer R. Raj Rao. It throws a spotlight on the sub gay culture of 'Bombay' in the post liberalised metropolis of the 90s.

Fire (1998)



Deepa Mehta's Fire, starring Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi hardly needs any introduction. The story of two sisters-in-law who find love and solace in each other when shunned from their husbands has been the subject of controversy since the time it released. Shiv Sena compared lesbianism to a sort of social AIDS and right-winged groups wanted the protagonists name changed to 'Nita' from 'Sita' because of the film. All of this lead the film to be banned but nonetheless it still shines as one of India's most well made films.

The Pink Mirror (2003)

The Pink Mirror/Flickr

The Pink Mirror/Flickr

This quirky story is a sneak peak into India's gay and transgender scene. Bibbo (Ramesh Menon), fashion designer, and Shabbo (Edwin Fernandes), a dancer are two drag queens that have a love-hate relationship with each other. They both start to compete for Samir (Rufy Baqal), an aspiring actor's love. Mandy(Rishi Raj), Shabbo's apprentice adds a plus one to the complicated love triangle when she admits her attraction to Samir.

The sensitive subject matter was handled brilliantly with a dose of humor that helped people empathize with the protagonists. But as the fate of Indian movies goes, it was banned as soon as it was released in 2003. Though widely lauded in festivals, the movie never saw the light of day in mainstream cinemas that it was meant for.

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Updated Date: Jun 16, 2016 18:54:01 IST