Movie Review: Sheer Qorma

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Sheer Qorma, Faraz Arif Ansari’s short film, starring Shabana Azmi, Divya Dutta, and Swara Bhasker in lead roles, is the story of two queer people who long for acceptance by their families. Faraz Arif Ansari, who has in the past done the critically-acclaimed silent short film Sisak, has directed this short film and the movie has been doing the film festival rounds since June 2021.

Played by Divya Dutta, Saira is a non-binary person who is in love with Sitara, played by Swara Bhaskar. Sitara is a Pakistani-Canadian citizen who travels to India with her partner. Saira takes home their partner, for the first time in 15 years to meet her family at an iftar. They get the cold shoulder from their mother, played by Shabani Azmi. She devotes all her attention to her heterosexual son and his partner, Susan. Struggling to cope with her child’s identity, the mother makes her contempt quite obvious by focusing way too much on her son and daughter-in-law.

Many of us have sat through dysfunctional dinners like this and witnessed the prioritization of attention (and thus affection) to some while ignoring others.  The calling out of this behaviour by Saira is what triggers Shabana to say, “Haven’t I given you a place at my table?” to Saira. This confrontation makes the already uncomfortable son and daughter-in-law even more uncomfortable. They have been trying to make it less awkward by trying to involve everyone at the talk in the conversations, but Shabana’s passive-aggressiveness irks more than just Saira at the table.

Sheer Qorma isn’t bold because it brings religion and sexuality in the same sentence. The movie is bold because it is a true representation of a world that has never been seen because it does not cater to a false, regressive stereotype that has been instilled in public memory for decades – Faraz Arif Ansari, one of India’s few queer filmmakers in the industry 

Accepting love in different hues is the prime focus in the narrative of Sheer Qorma, and it reveals the various family dynamics. In the few movies that talk sensibly about queer lives, this struggle for acceptance has been a common theme, but what makes Sheer Qorma stand out is its portrayal of Indian Muslim queer individuals. Mainly, the narrative is sympathetic to its queer characters, and everyone except Shabana struggles to see the dysfunction. Next, as much as the film portrays the struggles of queer individuals, it also shows the suffering the mother goes through.

It clearly addresses the trauma and emotions people with different identities and sexualities struggle with feeling of belonging and how they yearn for their family’s acceptance. Although it has a predictable storyline, the climax delivered by Shabana Azmi and Divya Dutta was worth watching! It portrays the agony that queer people are subjected to while also showing the love of a parent for her child! Quite powerful! The film also shows a beautiful scene where Saira and Sitara sincerely pray and profess that their love is not a sin.

It is disappointing how most mainstream articles reporting or reviewing this movie have misgendered Saira’s character and wrote about it as a – love story and the struggles of two Muslim queer women. The reception in the country was lukewarm, while the queer community was absolutely welcoming of the film. In the majority of cishet spaces, the movie was mocked, some people on Twitter demanded for a ban, and the director was trolled.

In the global space, the movie was quite well received. The movie won the “Best Short Film Audience Award” at the Frameline Film Festival and many other film festivals worldwide. The film also qualified for the British Academy Film Awards in 2021.

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