I spent the first eighteen years of my life in a country where it was illegal to be myself. I found out I was bisexual in seventh grade and from there it was just a matter of hiding it until I got out; that was just the reality.
In Pakistan, homosexuality is treated a lot harsher than in the UK, but it’s something that people simply don’t talk about as if it doesn’t exist. I found out about the concept of queerness from online fandoms as a kid, and when I found the term bisexual, the pieces fell into place, “Not everyone does that?”
Even when I got hit by the reality of queer oppression, my initial positive exposure kept me from internalising the hate. Being a woman in Pakistan, I already had the wish to leave the country, and so, finding out I was queer didn’t make my world crash again. It just made leaving more imperative for my own safety.
That was a different lived experience to my British friends who tell me that they grew up with homophobia from a young age, with phrases such as “that’s so gay!” being a common schoolyard insult. The Queer experience, however, is still internationally relatable, to an extent. When I moved to England for university, I naturally found myself engaging with people with whom I had that relatability— a variety of different yet similar experiences at their core.
The reason I write and got into filmmaking is heavily influenced by a want for an increase in representation. Seeing that queer brown people hardly exist in mainstream media, I want to create that for not only myself, but others as well.
For me, film has always been an escape. To be able to live vicariously through characters on a screen and share their stories. I’d much rather be happy than sad. So I always aim to write stories with happy endings; I want to make people feel good.
I want to make others feel the way I did watching my first queer Bollywood film, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. The plot is too complex to sum up here, but suffice to say it made me cry. At its core, it’s about the unconditional love a parent should have for their child.
When it comes to most western societies, there is a tradition of turning eighteen and going away to get on with your life, but that attitude is offensive and disrespectful in Pakistan. That’s the differnce between being queer, and being brown and queer. Your family is more important than anything else. These are the people you rely on for life, and knowing the sacrifices they make for you causes it to be a lot harder to forgive their misgivings.
Chupan Chupai (Hide and Seek) is my debut short film. My fears and desires showcased in bright colours and witty dialogue: not the muted and sullen pallets of the most recent western edgy teen drama, but the warmth and chaos of Bollywood cheese. Mehr, the focal character, is about to marry her fiancée, Jamie— when out of the blue, Mehr’s mother shows up at her doorstep, aware that her daughter is getting married… but not to a woman.
Mehr is pulled between these two aspects of her life: Jamie being Mehr’s connection to western society and more importantly, her queerness, whereas her mother is her connection to home and culture. She is reluctant to let go of either, but choices have to be made when her elaborate web of lies begins to unravel.
Ultimately, Mehr makes the choice to tell her mother, expecting the worst, but is surprised to hear nothing but acceptance from her mother, who wants nothing more than for her daughter to be happy.
Queer people of colour also deserve happy endings. Not everything has to be about our struggle. Not everything has to be realistic.