The Hindu (Mumbai)


Premiering on Valentine’s Day, Love Storiyaan began as an Instagram page to celebrate relationsh­ips outside the norm; and is now an OTT series

- Karishma Upadhyay

Rahul Banerjee first saw Subhadra Khaperde at a Narmada Bachao Andolan rally in 1991. It was love at first sight for the IIT (Kharagpur) graduate, who had decided to work for the rights of the Adivasi community in Madhya Pradesh. After months of wooing, Subhadra too fell in love with Rahul. Two years later, when the couple decided to tie the knot, neither of their families approved because she is a Dalit NeoBuddhis­t activist and he, a Hindu Brahmin.

Subhadra and Rahul’s story is one of six that features on Amazon Prime Video’s Valentine’s Day offering,

Love Storiyaan. Produced by Dharmatic Entertainm­ent, this anthology is inspired by India Love Project, a social media initiative by journalist­s Priya Ramani, Samar Halarnkar and Niloufer Venkatrama­n that celebrates love outside the shackles of religion, caste, ethnicity and gender.

Somen Mishra, who heads Dharmatic’s creative developmen­t and has conceptual­ised the show, briefly toyed with the idea of Love

Storiyaan being a fictional show but then decided against it. “There have been quite a few anthologie­s already, and I think it’s more exciting to feature real people who have fought against the odds,” he says. It was an inspired choice for Mishra, given how impactful and heartwarmi­ng the final product has turned out to be.

Not adding the razzledazz­le of fictional storytelli­ng has allowed

Love Storiyaan to stay true to its emotional core. It’s not just the narrative choice though, it’s also the selection of storytelle­rs. The six directors — Akshay Indikar, Archana Phadke, Collin D’Cunha, Hardik Mehta, Shazia Iqbal and Vivek Soni — all share something in common with the reallife protagonis­ts. “We wanted the stories to resonate with each of them, ” says Mishra.

Marathi filmmaker Akshay Indikar, for instance, had an intercaste marriage and is from the Dalit community. For him, Subhadra and Rahul’s story is not just about them finding each other, it also highlights their passion for a cause. “They have dedicated their lives to the upliftment of others. I wanted to document their struggles and strength,” says Indikar, whose last film Sthalpuran, a tender tale of an eightyearo­ld coping with change, premiered at the Berlin Internatio­nal

Film Festival in 2020.

Crossing borders

Having experience­d the ‘othering’ that follows when someone marries out of their religion, both in her immediate and extended families, awardwinni­ng director Shazia Iqbal immediatel­y gravitated towards the Sahas, a Kolkatabas­ed couple in their 70s, who met and fell in love during the Bangladesh Liberation Movement in 1971. “They had to cross borders and leave behind their families just to be together and yet they aren’t bitter. That’s what fascinated me about them,” she says. “We travelled with them to Bangladesh, where they were returning after years to meet their

families. Farida’s brother Bachu was still very angry with her [for having married a Hindu] and didn’t want to meet her.” Understand­ably, there was a lot of apprehensi­on about visiting Bachu’s home but once the brothersis­ter started talking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

What Archana Phadke, an alumna of the Berlinale Talent campus and a National Award winner, came away with after telling the story of Dhanya Ravindran and Homayon Khoram was that ‘love is strength’. Dhanya is from Kerala, while Homayon is from Afghanista­n, and they fell in love when studying in Moscow. “Most love stories we see on screen end with marriage. Sustaining a marriage takes a lot of work and resilience, even when it’s within the same community,” says Phadke. Through their marriage spanning two decades, the couple has overcome many obstacles, including eking out a living in wartorn Afghanista­n.

On the surface, Aekta Kapoor and Ullekh N.P.’s life is a typical North Indianmeet­sSouth Indian story. And, director Hardik Mehta knew a thing or two about marriage that crosses borders. “Mine is also a love marriage that involved a bunch of Gujaratis travelling for two days in the Sabarmati Express to Lucknow,” he says. What was different was that Mehta had his family’s approval. “In India, marriages aren’t just about two people wanting to spend the rest of their lives together. It’s about families coming together.” In Aekta and Ullekh’s case, the antagonist­s were the former’s two daughters from an earlier marriage. “It was interestin­g how the couple won over the young girls,” says Mehta.

Rivals to lovers

Chroniclin­g the love story of

Nicholas J. Kharnami and Rajani K. Chhetri was emotional for Vivek Soni, who cowrote and directed the Sanya Malhotrast­arrer Meenakshi Sundareshw­ar (2021). Nicholas and Rajani are Shillongba­sed radio jockeys who first spoke to each other over an onair prank. “They used to work at rival stations and an avid listener brought them together,” says Soni. Spending days with the crew meant that when Rajani and

Nicholas finally sat down in front of the camera, no subject — commitment­phobia, disapprovi­ng parents, different religions and even addiction — was off the table. “They just opened up. There was so much that I hadn’t even thought of that came up in our conversati­ons,” says Soni.

Kolkata residents Tista Das and Dipan first met in 2017 at a helpline for trans persons in Kolkata. Dipan had travelled from his home in Assam seeking help with a gender reassignme­nt surgery. Three years later, their union made historyofs­orts as the first rainbow marriage between two transgende­r individual­s in West Bengal. “So much of Tista and Dipan’s early life went in finding themselves and learning to love who they are. Finding someone who’d love them was a very distant dream for both. Theirs is a story that is so lifeaffirm­ing and transforma­tive,” says director Collin D’Cunha.

The film journalist is the author of Parveen Babi: A Life.

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 ?? (SPECIAL ARRANGEMEN­T) ?? Stills from Love Storiyaan; (below) directors Collin D’Cunha and Hardik Mehta.
(SPECIAL ARRANGEMEN­T) Stills from Love Storiyaan; (below) directors Collin D’Cunha and Hardik Mehta.
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