Indian web series The Other Love Story, about the slow and tender blossoming love of two college-aged women in ’90s Bangalore, has managed to achieve what so much of mainstream television has failed to do: give their leads a happy ending.
Written and directed by Roopa Rao under her company Just Like That Films in part as a “tribute to our teenage years”, the story follows Aadya (theatre artist Spoorthi Gumaste) and Aachal (indie film actor Shweta Gupta) as they strike up a friendship and then a slow burning romance. The series starts off with Aachal on board a train trying and failing to get a hold of Aadya; we then follow the leads’ gentle and tender relationship (narrated in parts by Aadya’s journal entries) built through landline phonecalls, letters, and occasionally playing hooky from class. Eventually and gradually we find out why Aachal is on that train — her family disapproves of the relationship and attempts to end it by sending Aachal off to family in the United States.
It is only in the very last moments of the very last episode that the tension breaks: Aadya surprises Aachal in the train after it leaves the station, having hidden in it the entire time after receiving Aachal’s sudden goodbye call. The series ends with them riding off happily into the sunset (though presumably not onwards to the United States together, because getting a visa is extremely difficult even when you don’t have a deadline of a few hours. But one can dream.).
Despite the various difficulties the crew faced through production, such as potential actors dropping out after their families objected to them acting in “porn”, Rao and her leads Gumaste and Gupta were consummate professionals throughout the process. Their behind-the-scenes clips feature a lot of discussion on respecting and honouring the spirit of Aadya and Aachal’s characters and relationship, building a love story that truly transcends gender expectations. One particularly charming anecdote relates to the “intimate” scene, a very sweet and affectionate make-out scene between Aadya and Aachal: apparently they hadn’t heard the crew call “Cut!” and kept on going for some time after the cameras stopped rolling! You can tell from these behind-the-scenes interviews that everyone in the crew really cared about the story and about the characters’ journey, working really hard to honour their love and treat their story with respect.
As a queer South Asian born and raised in Asia to immigrant parents, finding any representation of myself in any form of media was difficult. Most media I found with queer relationships were Western, hardly ever featuring women of colour — let alone South Asian women. Meanwhile, most Bollywood films, or any other Asian media accessible to me, would center relationships and depictions of women that felt alien to me. Films like 1996’s world-acclaimed Fire, which had a happy ending for the lead couple Radha and Sita, were rare and not easily accessed.
The Other Love Story was such a breath of fresh air in many ways. Aadya and Aachal felt like any other regular person: they were not coded Butch or Femme, like too many of these stories tend to do, and neither were overly Westernized nor overly exotified. They just were. While we don’t share the exact same experience (I didn’t grow up in 90s Bangalore, for starters) there were many elements of their lives that seemed familiar: the fashion, the hours spent with friends on the phone monitored by our parents, even the accented English. They felt like they could be my cousins — and cousins are still family, after all.
In a year or two that have marked severe attacks on LGBTQ people like me, such as the murders of Bangladeshi LGBTQ activists Xulhaz Mannan and Mahbub Tonoy with very little investigation by the Government, or the Pulse Orlando shooting, or even the 2013 staging of anti-LGBTQ State-sponsored play Asmara Songsang in Malaysia, having relatable representation that showed adorable happiness for people like me was healing. I didn’t need to conform to anyone’s expectations of being a Good Woman or Good Queermo, whether that came from my cultures of heritage or from queer culture. I could just be myself, and find love that way.
Roopa Rao’s win as Best Director at the 2016 NYC Web Fest, and the success of the series overall, shows that queer love stories like these, especially from marginalized communities, can succeed — and can especially succeed when given happy endings. There was no need to create drama through death, overly used as a cheap trope in romantic stories (star-crossed lovers! how tragic!). Aadya and Aachal’s story had enough drama, compassion, love, humour, and charm for us to relate to and find enjoyment.
The Other Love Story can be watched for free on YouTube or rented or bought on Revry. The series is primarily in English (with some Hindi and Kannada), with English subtitles.
Actually you can only watch the first episode for free on Youtube.
Here’s a playlist of the entire show on their official YouTube channel!
I wasn’t able to watch past the first episode either as the rest were geoblocked (I live in the US). The first episode was awesome, though. If I have $$ after bills on payday I may buy the series to support the work.
It looks like the videos past episode 1 are no longer available on YouTube :( which I totally get though since its also on an on demand service.
Definitely worth the $7.99 to rent!
It might be a geoblock thing because they all load fine in Australia! Sorry Americans!
Thank fuck! I can’t wait to watch this series.
Thank you! Will check it out right away!
This looks like a cute series and I’m looking forward to checking it out.
I need to say though, that the line in the article, and which was also chosen as the snippet for it on the main page -is really not cool. “Aadya and Aachal felt like any other regular person: they were not coded Butch or Femme, like too many of these stories tend to do, and neither were overly Westernized nor overly exotified. They just were.”
This line implies that butch women and femme women (and presumably butch/femme couples) are not just like another other regular person/people. Personally, I’m not aware of many other South Asian stories that are about butch/femme characters (I wish there were lots!) but even if there were so many of those stories around, it still doesn’t change that this is implying that somehow we are different to regular people?
Anyway, I love AS but I’m pretty upset that on this rare occasion that there is content about a South Asian lesbians/queer women, it had to be framed like this.
As the writer I’ll tell you where I’m coming from with that line.
I have been shooed out or otherwise ignored by various queer spaces because I don’t look or dress like the stereotype of Butch or Femme. I’ve been accused of being straight, of being too “normal”, of faking it. Simply because I do not conform to queer fashion ideals. And hell, even if I try to conform, my brownness alone already means that I will fail. I am endlessly frustrated by the elevation of queer people who neatly fit fashion trends, of the valorization of the Alternative Lifestyle Haircut or Rockabilly Dress or Dapper Suit with Bowtie above all else – notice too how Western-centric they are. Mainstream media does this, queer media does this.
Aachal and Aadya are wearing clothes that I would wear pretty often. They’re not being cast as Stereotype Lesbian, which media from all over the place seems to want to do with queer women. They don’t ping as queer at all and yet their relationship is sweet and genuine and relatable. For someone too queer for the mainstream yet too “normie” for queer circles sometimes, this was very refreshing.
It’s important to have representations of different types of queer women in the media, and it’s cool that this representation resonated with you.
That’s not my issue though. It’s the way the sentence is framed which implies that couples who are represented as butch/femme would somehow be less like regular people? And that last line “they just were” is as if butch/femme couples aren’t……
Like my personal experience is as a South Asian femme woman who is super into butch/femme, and I haven’t found queer spaces to be welcoming at all, I rarely even engage queer spaces anymore because of that. I’m not saying that to dismiss your experience because I don’t think our experiences are in contradiction, I think there’s lots of different ways to experience exclusion in queer spaces, and it’s fucking shitty whichever way it is.
Anyway, that’s what I come with when I saw that sentence in this article -it was jarring and upsetting for me.
My point is not that you or anyone else shouldn’t celebrate seeing yourself in the media, or seeing non butch-femme couples in the media -my point is that the line could have been framed differently. The way it is currently framed implies that butch/femme representations are somehow lessor.
I’m not saying anything about them being lesser than or greater than anyone, I’m saying that in media too often the only way queer women get represented (other then say Hypersexual College Girl) is by using the stereotype of “butch” or “femme” – or their concept of that stereotype anyway. Like, they need to code the characters as GAY GAY GAY DID I MENTION THEY WERE SUPER GAAAAAAAAYYYYYYY.
You can sorta see this in anti-LGBTQ work like Asmara Songsang where the stereotypes also get used as commentary on “look how bad they are, they can’t even get their gender right, let alone their sexuality” (though they tend to focus on “butch” portrayals more than anything).