Within the anthology, Ajeeb Daastaans on Netflix, we see a queer and caste intersection in a story titled Geeli Pucchi. Directed by Neeraj Ghaywan and stars Konkona Sen Sharma and Aditi Rao Hydari in pivotal roles, this film is a poignant take on the caste atrocities prevailing in India. It’s been a while since it came out, so spoilers ahead!
They say you don’t always get your share by asking, sometimes you have to snatch it. The story begins with Bharati Mondol’s (played by Konkona) place in a male only factory where they (Bharati) are seen working on a machine as a manual labour. Bharati is qualified enough to work as an accountant in the firm, but (given theuir caste) they are systematically ignored and rejected. They are seen having a conversation with Dashrath, a co-worker, about giving her job to another woman, and he explains to them that they are not ‘Mishra’, ‘Banerjee’, or ‘Sharma’.
Around the same time, Priya Sharma (played by Aditi Rao Hydari) comes into the canteen, and the director has taken care of the nuances as we see Priya (a ‘dominant’ caste woman) placed upstairs in the canteen, symbolising her ‘higher’ status. She comes down to the only ‘woman’ in sight, Bharati, and introduces herself. The sheer innocence of Priya sways us all, and we believe in her.
Priya asks about the washroom that Bharati uses, and they say, “I use the one that everybody uses,” which meant there were no separate washrooms for women, let alone queer people. A co-worker starts addressing Bharati as a man and pushes them to a point where Bharati gets into a fight with him and they hurt themselves. When Priya is tending to their injury and doing their first-aid, Bharati mentions their caste as Banerjee and not Mondol.
We see Bharati remembering their partner in their queer relationship with a woman. Subtly, during the course of this story (without mentioning queer or lesbian labels), we are shown that Priya, too, is attracted to women. She mentions her friend, who she was very close to, and in a matter of a few days, Priya and Bharati become close. Despite Priya’s husband being a really good and caring husband, Priya is seen as least interested in forming a physical relationship with him. She does love him, but there is a hesitance when it comes to being physical with him, while on the other hand, he is planning for a baby.
Bharati consoles her that there’s nothing wrong with her and in that moment of vulnerability they hold her hand and share that they are a Dalit individual and their mother and grandmothers were midwives. Priya is seen ‘withdrawing’ from this truth as a phone call comes up. And just when we thought that Priya was nice enough to understand Bharati, she asks them to wait outside the office, which is going to celebrate her birthday, with dominant caste folks only, of course.
Bharati feels angry, and rightly so, as they are asked to serve the cake to everyone. They, however, don’t give up and “plan” to snatch whatever is rightfully theirs. In a battle between queer, caste, and patriarchy, they choose to put Priya in a position of motherhood, from which she will never be able to walk away. Priya hands over her duty to Bharati while she’s delivering the baby, but Bharati’s plan was to never let her come back.
In the final scene, we see that Priya has told her family that Bharati is a dalit individual, which is why they are given tea in a steel glass while everyone else is served in a cup. By now, Priya understood that Bharati had trapped her into motherhood, and the grey shades of Priya and Bharati are seen.
In a world where we rarely see women and queer characters being grey and selfish, this story is a breath of fresh air. It is assumed that cisgender heterosexual women and LGBTQIA+ people must maintain a positive image in order to maintain their positions in a patriarchal, casteist, and cis heteronormative world. It appears that they have been robbed of their human nature in order to prove a point, and this story shatters all of that and how.