What does a gay wedding look like in your imagination? Few Indians have actually gone to one, not only because it is a rare occurrence but also because it is not recognised by the law of the land. On 25 February 2021, the Government of India filed an affidavit in the Delhi High Court, stating that “the acceptance of the institution of marriage between two individuals of the same gender is neither recognised nor accepted in any uncodified personal laws or any codified statutory laws.” Marriage equality will be a dream until the courts or the legislature decide that Indian society is truly ready to grow up.
What we have, in the meantime, are a few shows on OTT platforms that confront homophobia and make impassioned pleas for change. After Romil and Jugal (2017) and Four More Shots Please! (2019), The Big Day (2021) on Netflix is the latest Indian show to feature the nuptials of a gay couple.
One of the six stories in this documentary series about designer weddings is woven around two gay men, Tyrone Braganza and Daniel Bauer. They get married six years after meeting at a bar in Mumbai. Braganza’s mother is from Mangalore and father from Goa; Bauer, a makeup artist, has a German father and a Thai mother of Chinese heritage, whose father is an Indian from Chennai.
Braganza reveals how painful it was to learn that his mother thought she could change his sexual orientation by praying to God. This is the kind of family conflict that many gay couples have to endure. Fortunately, she has a change of heart. She doesn’t get a visa to attend his church wedding in Germany, but another one is held in Goa. It is moving to hear him talk about how incredible the experience was. He grew up believing that “Christianity and homosexuality were completely at war with each other”, never expecting a church would recognise his love for another man, and also sanctify that union. The Big Day holds out a glimmer of hope for gay couples in India that aspire to get married with the blessings of their family and friends in a religious setting.
Viewers might wonder about the paperwork it took to register Braganza and Bauer’s marriage abroad, since India refuses to register gay marriages at present. The show does not delve into this. One of the petitions in the Delhi High Court seeking legal recognition for same-sex marriages in India has been filed by Vaibhav Jain, an Indian citizen, and Parag Vijay Mehta, an Overseas Citizen of India. They got married to each other in Washington, DC. When they approached the Indian Consulate in New York to get their marriage registered under the Foreign Marriage Act, their request was rejected.
Braganza and Bauer’s wedding in Goa is briefly interrupted when the church ground, booked as the venue, becomes unavailable. A priest tells Braganza’s friend that, if the wedding is allowed to take place, people might get the impression that the church encourages same-sex marriages. The show does not shed any light on how the matter is resolved. Braganza and Bauer also have what they call “an Indian wedding”—which is actually a Hindu one with Vedic rituals. This priest is quite supportive, though the men are not Hindu. He says, “The rituals are the same as in any other marriage ceremony. Only the vow related to procreation is altered.”
If religious traditions are flexible enough to adapt themselves to the times, why does the Indian government believe that Indian culture has no space for gay couples? The affidavit filed by the government asserts, “In our country, despite statutory recognition of the relationship of marriage between a biological man and a biological woman, marriage necessarily depends upon age-old customs, rituals, practices, cultural ethos and societal values.” The Big Day shows that traditions can be reinterpreted creatively and lovingly.
Many queer people live with the trauma of domestic violence and emotional abuse experienced in their birth families. Their chosen families are often made up of friends, lovers, queer elders, and pets. Four More Shots Please! (on Amazon Prime) is conscious of this. When gym trainer Umang Singh (Gurbani Judge) flies to Udaipur for her wedding with actor Samara Kapoor (Lisa Ray), Singh’s friends are strong pillars of support through the entire process. She does not need her biological parents to be present at the wedding.
This show explores the ups and downs of a lesbian couple that is unequal in terms of social status, financial security, and passport privilege. Singh is an Indian citizen while Kapoor is a British citizen. The ceremony is supposed to happen in India but the legal registration is scheduled to take place in London. Singh eventually calls off the wedding just before they take the vows. Their equation reminds her of the patriarchal power dynamics she has seen among heterosexual couples in her birth family.
Romil and Jugal (on Alt Balaji) made a courageous beginning to the discourse around marriage equality on OTT even before Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was read down by the Supreme Court of India. At a time when “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” was criminalised, it featured a gay wedding with Romil Kohli (Rajeev Siddhartha) and Jugal Subramaniam (Manraj Singh) in a small town called Colvin Ganj. This relationship between a Punjabi man and a Tamil man goes through its own share of obstacles posed by their parents: they move out of their homes to live together as a couple, and the wedding plans materialise only after a fake accident and emotional blackmailing. The parents eventually embrace them, and a grand party is organised with their friends and acquaintances.
The “big fat Indian wedding” that Romil and Jugal have is not legally recognised in India. The couple have to leave their parents behind, and move to New Zealand in order to start their marital life. Migration is made possible thanks to their status as international students studying theatre and management respectively. Is leaving India the only option for queer citizens who want to get married? How many of them have the means to leave? Why should they have to leave in the first place?
Chintan Girish Modi is a writer, educator and researcher who tweets @chintan_connect