A clip from the film Utsav (1984), directed by Girish Karnad, starring Rekha, Shekhar Kapur, Anuradha Patel.
This scene has Vasantsena (Rekha) dressing up Aditi (Anuradha Patel) so that she can please her husband. Aditi knows that Vasantsena is her husband's lover and goes to her place to confront her. But they end up talking and becoming friendly. In the course of this Vasantsena offers to teach Aditi how to entrance and keep her husband. A loving scene of dressing up Aditi, changing her clothes and making her wear jewelry like Vasantsena. Before they exchange their clothes and adornments is a delicious gap, in which much queer speculation has happened about what the two women did.
It is a peculiar friendship that the two women strike up with each other, since they are allegedly rivals for the affections of one man, but seem to make him irrelevant once they have found each other. Within the strictly traditional framework of this film, this moment is deliciously coded for queer erotics.
An image from this scene is the cover of Gayatri Gopinath's book on queer diapsoras relation to Indian popular culture ( Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures (Perverse Modernities) by Gayatri Gopinath, Judith Halberstam, and Lisa Lowe). It also is on the cover of the Queering Bollywood database circulated by Alternative Law Forum.
Gopinath in her essay on queer desire, remarks that feminist analysis of the film Utsav, critiqued this scene, as this kind of female bonding between the mistress and the wife, seemingly allows the man to move without guilt between his glamorous mistress and nurturing wife. However, this according to Gopinath, misses " the more nuanced eroticism between the two women that a queer diasporic reading makes apparent."
Though Gopinath's analysis seems to be rooted in the experience of queer diasporas, much of her work seems relevant to Indian audiences as well. The other films she examines are Hum aapke hain kaun (for the gender reversal scene) and Subbah. Subbah directly refers to same sex eroticism between women, in the context of a women reformatory and even uses the word 'lesbian' to talk about certain relations and women.
This clip is part of the Queering Bollywood database, an exhibition and demonstration of a collection of queer readings of Indian cinema. This open and collaborative database of articles, film clips, magazine stories, etc., has been compiled by Namita Malhotra, Lawrence Liang and many others at Alternative Law Forum and in Bangalore. For more, see http://media.opencultures.net/queer/