If someone asks, how many films are in Bollywood that talk about same-sex relationships? Some titles would instantly pop into our mind. Same-sex relationships are something long considered taboo in India. Except for a few exceptions, Bollywood needed to explore the subject better. Films like “Fire,” “My Brother Nikhil,” and in the last decade, “Aligarh,” “Kapoor and Sons,” “Margarita with a Straw” to the most recent “Badhai Do,” the number is pretty few. The number gets even lesser if one sees how many movies are made on another taboo topic, i.e., AIDS, and there’s a handful that stands out. Back in 2008, director Mira Nair along with writer Zoya Akhtar tried to change the scenario with their short film “Migration,” which, even for a short film, had a great ensemble cast with the likes of Irrfan Khan, Tinu Anand, Raima Sen, Shiney Ahuja, Sameera Reddy, Satish Kaushik, Vijay Raaz, and Arjun Mathur. The short film came with some messages regarding protection during sex and HIV prevention. However, it moves in a way that hinders the overall narrative development of the film.

The story starts with a contract laborer Birju (Shiney Ahuja), who comes to Bombay, leaving his wife (Raima Sen) back in the village with his father (Tinu Anand) after the death of his mother. He does a construction job beside the house of Divya (Sameera Reddy), who receives taunts from her mother-in-law for not having a baby with her son Abhay (Irrfan Khan) and for wearing backless blouses. Little do they know that Abhay is a closeted gay person who has a secret relationship with Imran (Arjun Mathur) leading to a passion-less marriage between Divya and Abhay. 

A still from the short film Migration (2008).
A still from the short film Migration (2008).

The tale connects urban and rural locales, and the camerawork provides a reasonably accurate picture of modern Bombay. The performances are good enough, but due to the short span of the runtime, they lack any depth or development. The only character that does outshine every other is Birju, played by Shiney Ahuja, who learns about contraceptives in a very tongue-in-cheek scene (the also scene includes a very fun-to-watch Vijay Raaz). The story follows through as he has unintentional intercourse and goes back to his village. At the end of the film, Birju learns that his wife and his newborn son are HIV positive and starts apologizing to them even though the wife is aloof about what is happening. 

Though the other performers have less time to get into the skin of their characters, Irrfan Khan gives a very nuanced performance as a closeted husband; his breakdown scene is particularly intriguing to watch. But the film follows the contrived stereotype – quite unintentionally if so – that HIV is transmitted through homosexuals.

Moreover, the message in the movie feels too in your face, and it could have been handled more subtly. But given the runtime, it might be a choice and can be misrepresented as a more extended contraceptive advertisement. The bothering piece here is the extramarital affair plot line, which over time became a staple in Zoya Akhtar’s directorial ventures. Yes, they provide insight here, but Akhtar must go beyond her usual staple to be a more capable storyteller. The performances elevate the film, and given how few films we have on the subject, a mid-level film from a renowned director and a talented cast might be a good thing after all.

Read More: Recess (1972) Short Film Review: An abstract short that utilizes the director’s most unique cinematic techniques

Migration (2008) Movie Links – IMDb
Migration (2008) Movie Cast – Irrfan Khan, Shiney Ahuja, Arjun Mathur, Raima Sen, Sameera Reddy

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