Films about the LGBTQ community are still very rare in India. Producers claim that family audiences are not comfortable with gay themes in cinema.
Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue has its flaws…major flaws…but it is an important take on the male gaze . That the novel(by the director Kundalkar) in Marathi was published in 2006 when Article 377 was a living reality,makes the film all the more relevant, resonant and finally deeply ruminative in spite of the flaws.
In some vital ways it reminded me of Luca Guadagnino’s highly acclaimed hugely successful(in fact the only commercially successful gay film in recent history) multi-Oscar winner Call Mr By Your Name. As in Guadagnino’s film, the film is set in an insanely idyllic coastal town, Kerala in Cobalt Blue, where a Marathi migrant family takes in a house guest.
Unfortunately Prateik Babbar is no Armie Hammer. Repeated references to him by the characters as some kind of an ideal male-gaze material doesn’t quite convince us. The fallow young protagonist Tanay, played by Neele Mehendale , who falls for the nameless guest(nice touch, to keep the catalyst nameless) is again not quite the Timothee Chalamet that the script expects him to be. Most of the time Mahendale looks high on something, and it’s not love.
With its low aspirations Cobalt Blue hits some right notes, specially in the scenes where Tanay is shown getting physically and emotionally close to the shirtless and, eventually, worthless guest who,believe it or not, elopes with Tanay’s feisty hockey-loving sister Anuja(well played by Anjali Sivaraman).
The twists and turns in the plot are not always believable or even logical. What stays with you after the film is its unspoken lyricism, its unstrained depiction of same-sex love in a conscripted society.Neil Bhoopalam gives the best performance of the film as Tanay’s anguished closeted gay teacher hankering for a release.
Tanay finally escapes his hometown and we see posters of Deepa Mehta’s groundbreaking film on lesbianism Fire being plastered on the wall. This brings me to Deepa Mehta’s 2017 film Funny Boy about a gay Sri Lankan boy growing up in his war-torn country . Funny Boy remains blacked-out by Netflix India while it has been shown in the rest of the world by Netflix.
Cobalt Blue too has had a rough journey. It was commissioned by Netflix in 2018. After its completion the release was repeatedly postponed. Now it streams without even a whimper of publicity or marketing. I am told the director has distanced himself from the film. How sadly ironic that a film which talks of bridging the gap is isolated from its creator.