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Cinema has a power to influence people, in good ways and bad. It has the power of changing perspectives, of generating a conversation, of creating a buzz. There are some films that dare to jump the safe space and tread upon topics that are taboo in society. They speak about things people only whisper about. Here’s a few of the films that were way ahead of their time:

1. My Brother Nikhil (2005)

Director: Onir

A film that touched upon topics like HIV AIDS and homosexuality when these topics weren’t even whispered about. Nikhil’s life changes when he is diagnosed with AIDS. He is thrown out of his house, loses place in his swim team and is isolated from the society. The film forces you to learn about/understand facts about a reality many people live.

2. Do Aankhen Barah Haath (1957)

Director: V. Shantaram

A 1957 film talking about rehabilitation of criminals - that’s something we rarely discuss even today! It was commendable how smoothly this film manages to not just touch the topic, but fully grasp it. V.Shantaram was one of the early film-makers to realize the power of cinema and the message it can put across to audiences.

3. Pyaasa (1957)

Director: Guru Dutt

Pyaasa was the original film that touched upon topics like artistic dissatisfaction. How so many of us are forced to give up on our dreams because of societal expectations. Guru Dutt’s fantastic film shows Gulabo, a sex worker reach out to him and offer him comfort in the form of appreciation for his work. She embodies everything warm and welcoming that the world couldn’t offer him. In her appreciation, he finds his freedom.

4. Nishabd (2007)

Director: Ram Gopal Varma

A man his sixties falls in love with his daughter’s friend, a teenager. While the film is quite dark, it was way ahead of its time in discussing topics like relationships with extreme age difference. The film makes you uncomfortable, but it also raises the burning question: Who are you to decide what’s acceptable and what is not?

5. Fire (1996)

Director: Deepa Mehta

Starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, Fire attempted a loose take on Ismat Chugtai’s Lihaaf. While films like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga are finding an audience today, the representation of the LGBT community in films at the time was a very, very big deal. It is not surprising then that the film faced a lot of protests. What is interesting is that the CBFC, well known for finding its compass pointing towards a rigid sense of morality, passed the film with no cuts.

6. Kya Kehna (2006)

Director: Kundan Shah

Kya Kehna 
is the Indian Juno. The film spoke about teenage pregnancy, and how families abandon their girls. The man walks away, guilt free, while the girl is left to deal with repercussions. The film was a good insight into this societal reality, one that wasn’t spoken about openly at the time. In fact, it is still taboo.

7. Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women (2003)

Director: Manish Jha

Imagine a world without women. This film attacks the patriarchy, shows you the beast-like attitude of men. The film isn’t an easy watch, it is direct to the point of crass, it is real to the point of scary. It shows you a world where a woman is nothing but an object of entertainment for men. A world that accepts bestiality but not homosexuality. This is a film that makes you so uncomfortable that you’re forced to think.

8. Lamhe (1991)

Director: Yash Chopra

A Jacob-falls-for-Bella’s-daughter Indian version, Lamhe is the story of Viren who falls in love with Pallavi. She marries another man, but the couple dies, leaving behind their daughter who falls in love with Viren. The film attracted audiences because of the boldness of the love story. For once, Bollywood moved away from the safe boy-meet-girl storytelling.

9. Monsoon Wedding (2001)

Director: Mira Nair

Monsoon Wedding was exceptional for addressing the issues of child sexual abuse. Shefali Shah’s character is sexually abused by an uncle (played by Rajat Kapoor) and continues to live with the family. The fact that this film so brilliantly, yet with such sensitivity threw light upon the topic in a time when these realities were hardly acknowledged, was commendable.

10. Filhaal (2002)

Director: Meghna Gulzar

Another taboo topic - surrogacy. A woman finds out she can’t have a child of her own, so she gets her friend to act as a surrogate mother. Seems normal to you? It wasn’t, back in 2002. Meghna Gulzar’s film attempted to normalise a concept that very few families could openly discuss at the time.


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