Before Sonam Kapoor’s lesbian character in Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, before Dostana brought gay romance in a problematic/not so problematic light, there was Onir’s 2005 classic My Brother…Nikhil.
Written and directed by Onir (that director whose one or two offbeat film you might be knowing, it stars Sanjay Suri (that actor you might have seen in some film or the other but you don’t know his name) as Nikhil, a gay swimmer in Goa growing up in a cosy yet subtly problematic family. However, to his emotional aid, are his sister played by a not-so-fresh Juhi Chawla (that actress in many an SRK film) and his boyfriend Nigel played by a fresh Purab Kohli (that drummer guy in Rock On). My Brother…Nikhil has this and that person involved in it, and it might not be fully mainstream, but still it shouldn’t be seen as ‘that gay film’. It’s more than that.
When Nikhil is suddenly infected with AIDS, the people around him start shunning him. He gets detached from his swimming, his parents, and everything else. He’s basically aidless.
But unlike all the LGBTQ related films in India before (the lesbian drama Fire being a major example), Onir’s drama is not that intense. And the simplicity in its narrative is what makes My Brother…Nikhil a heart-warming watch for the family.
Previously, there were just arthouse films on gay couples that were quite disturbing in the effort to accurately show reality that the oppressed face in India. This U-rated movie is no art film. There aren’t any dramatic ‘Ma, I’m gay’ monologues either. But it still manages to hit the right spots with the subtle realities of the Indian setting in which it’s based.
Nikhil’s father loves his son more with toxic manhood rather than fatherhood. He frowns whenever Nikhil’s mum calls him a ‘little boy’. If Nikhil loses a competition, all he hears is ‘This because of your lafandar friends’. When his sweet mother asks him to marry a woman just because she respects elders, Nikhil sums up the millennial view by saying ‘Typical Indian parents’!
When the AIDS angle is introduced, we see the expected stigmas of people treating Nikhil like how any vile Brahman would treat a Dalit. They stay away from him and his ‘bad touch’. These scenes are shown in a straightforward manner, no rivers of tears flowing and no tragic violin music playing in background.
Simplicity is why the movie shines. That’s why wherever it tries to go a little extra be it with the sentiments or Juhi Chawla’s English accent, it fails. On the other hand, the scenes with the parents and Nikhil’s boyfriends flow smoothly.
Coming to the boyfriend, Onir beautifully shows an ordinary relationship between two men showing that they care for each other. There are no stereotypical tropes of Bollywood romance or any forced ‘special’ aspect to the bond. Onir, who himself came out of the closet a few years back, doesn’t make being gay some sort of special thing, not like other problematic representations which try to gain sympathy and nothing else.
Being gay is just being human, like everyone in society. For this reason, My Brother…Nikhil definitely deserves a watch. You can stream it on Netflix or Hotstar.
Featured Image Credits- My Brother Nikhil
Shaurya Singh Thapa
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