Nepal | November 15, 2019

‘Just Another Love Story’ looks promising but will the heterosexual gaze affect authenticity?

Priyanka Karki's directorial debut is a story about love and friendship between two female characters, a rare portrayal on Nepali screen

Ankit Khadgi

Whenever we think of a love story, we imagine a guy and a girl madly in love with each other, who fight all odds to be together and then stay dedicated thereafter.

The Sunday past, Priyanka Karki, a popular Nepali female actor, broke this stereotypical heterosexual definition of love and released her new web series “Just Another Love Story”.

Directed, written, edited, produced and acted by Karki who shares the screen with former Miss Nepal and fellow actor, Shristi Shrestha, the series is a story about friendship and love between two female characters, a rare portrayal on Nepali screen.

Photo Courtesy: Priyanka Karki

Two months ago, ‘Pahaar’ the official soundtrack of the series, written and performed by Sajjan Raj Vaidya, was released which generated curiosity among the viewers regarding how the series would be.

Nepali media has always stereotyped gender minorities. They are either used as comic relief or someone who is desperate to have sexual intercourse and lays eyes on every cisgender heterosexual individual. An individual who identifies as gay has to wear pink coloured clothes, be a fashion designer, talk about sex every time, and harass cisgender men. A lesbian will have short hair, will only hang out with guys and won’t wear any feminine clothes.

A transgender has to be someone who is lusting over straight men. Bisexuals are always the confused ones. These are the regular, stereotypical and problematic representation of gender minorities that takes place not only in our country but also in international media.

But the time is changing. And filmmakers and writers are trying to make some progressive changes in the representation of gender minorities.

Priyanka Karki, who co-wrote the series with Shan Basnyat, first of all, should be appreciated for writing a story about friendship and love between two women, irrespective of how the series turns out to be.

In the first episode, we are introduced to Karki and Shrestha’s characters. Karki plays Amara and Shrestha plays Maya in the series. By watching the first episode we know that they are friends who share a comfort level with one another and are partying in a club.

In the first few minutes of the episode, the leads are dancing in the club with a bunch of their male friends. Karki should be credited for the use of the editing technique in this scene as she helps to create the groovy mood.

Photo Courtesy: YouTube

The first episode was just 13 minutes and 38 seconds long. The decision to make the episode short had both shortcomings and benefits. On the positive side, the makers have generated curiosity among the viewers for them to want to see what’s next in store for the two lead characters as the series progresses. However, the shortcoming is that viewers are deprived from knowing who these characters really are — their background, personalities, and what they do, which is generally expected out of the pilot episode. We know that they have fancy names, are good friends, and something is bound to happen between them.

Actor Ayushman DS Joshi, who is the director of photography, has done a fair job in capturing the episode. Though in very few scenes, the focus goes on and off, this is something which some cinematographers might intentionally do to create a mood.

Production designer Rekha Shrestha and stylist Rajshree RL Rana have also done justice to the overall look of the episode. The acting was satisfactory and so were the dialogues. Since the series just began with a short episode, it will only be fair to judge the performances later on after the characters have fleshed out properly.

Photo Courtesy: YouTube

One thing which was not consistent in the episode was the sound. In a scene, where the leads are talking to each other inside a restroom, the consistency in the audio of the dialogues was compromised.

Brownie points for the makers for that amazing title track “Just Another Love Story”.

As a cinema lover and series freak, I am all for seeing diverse roles. Only a few cisgender heterosexual actors who feel secure about their position and acting skills can take on the roles of gender minorities and perform it exceptionally good. So hats off to the two lead actors who have embraced the roles.

But my appreciation for this series would have escalated to the next level if the leads of the series, or writer, or the director was a gender minority.

The heterosexual gaze on gender minorities can be problematic at times. If we look at the movies featuring gender minorities which were written and directed by heterosexual cisgender individuals, we can see that there are only two representations of gender minorities. Either they are stereotyped and used as comic relief or they are shown as individuals who are having troubled lives.

Photo Courtesy: Priyanka Karki

Our narratives are always dominated by heterosexual stories and even if a story of a gender minority is told, it is cisgender heterosexual individuals who make it. If a gender minority pens down a story or is directly involved in the filmmaking process, then the story will be more authentic and will represent their actual realities rather than some perceived notion of them.

Similarly, such will create a chance for heterosexual cisgender people to understand the gender minorities much better and to leave their preconceived biases if the minorities are the frontiers in story-telling.

Laura Mulvey, a feminist film theorist in the 1970’s, had introduced the male gaze theory. Mulvey argues that most depiction of women in visual arts happens from a heterosexual masculine perspective where women are presented as objects of desire for the pleasure of the male viewers.

Let us hope Karki and her team have refrained from following the male gaze trope — which is problematic because it objectifies women; especially when the male gaze trope is used in stories where female characters love people of their own sex, they are sexualised and objectified to the next level.

Karki and her team deserve all the acknowledgement for trying to tell a love story between two females. But had a gender minority been directly involved in the filmmaking process, it would have been the icing on the cake, which would have minimised the chances of heterosexual gaze affecting the authenticity of the story.

Arguments may surface that our Nepali filmmaking and the media industry lack gender minorities who have opened up about their preferences publicly. But it is not a herculean task because we have seen Nepalis — some of whom are from creative fields — embracing their sexualities and orientations in recent times.

Nevertheless, the first episode has generated the viewers’ interest. Let’s hope the upcoming episodes will have a progressive portrayal of the characters accompanied by an intriguing storyline.

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