Before sunrise at the Sabarmati riverfront

Aarti Neharsh’s short film, The Song We Sang, refrains from using sexuality as conflict in the narrative

Two young women, Krishna and Alia, walk around the streets of Ahmedabad on Navratri, opening up about their worldviews, childhoods and fears. They met for the first time the same evening, and through the night, discover each other’s personalities and beliefs. It’s perhaps their only night together, as one of them leaves for the airport the following morning. Aarti Neharsh’s short film, The Song We Sang, captures an instant connect between two people and builds up to the question of what could have been.

It’s among the handful of contemporary Indian queer films that refrain from using sexuality as conflict in the narrative. Despite being set in a culturally vibrant and familiar setting of Navratri, the world in the film seems almost fantastical, where two women can kiss on the streets unfettered. Their sexual orientation is never addressed, let alone used as a conflict point.

“With a love story between two women, we didn’t want to have an external antagonist. We didn’t want a parental backlash but wanted the conflict to be more internal, about their own fears, vulnerabilities and finding a connection,” says 24-year-old Neharsh.

The 20-minute short, which won the Best Indian Narrative Short Film at the recently concluded 11th Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, is currently playing at the International Film Festival of South Asia in Toronto. The film had its European Premiere at London Indian Film Festival in June.

Aarti Neharsh’s short film

Narrated in one night, the film, which is a bit rough around the edges, is largely centred around the various conversations between Krishna and Alia, as they stroll along the Sabarmati riverfront, away from the Navratri celebrations. “Conversational films is something my co-writer Chintan [Bhatt] and I are a fan of,” informs Neharsh. The narrative builds up to a finale, where the characters speculate over the uncertainty of their future together, while the audience is left to wonder about the verisimilitude of their encounter. “Considering there have been so many love stories in the conversational genre, we wanted to do something new with the treatment, we wanted the butterfly effect. We wanted to create a chemistry [between the two] which is so strong, that there is a certain heartbreak you feel if you think they didn’t actually meet [at all],” explains the filmmaker.

Neharsh, who was born and raised in Ahmedabad, opted to situate the film against the city’s Navarati festivities to bring out a feeling of freedom. “Growing up, I’ve always found Navaratri [to be] the one time when this otherwise conservative and rigid city loosens up and comes to life. I was not a big dancer but I enjoyed walking on the streets, there’s no curfew, and people are flirting, and it stands for liberation and its a perfect setting,” she shares.

The festival enables Krishna and Alia to explore the possibility of love, in an almost parallel reality than the one we occupy.

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