Faraz Arif Ansari has a deeply personal relationship with food. After the queer nonbinary filmmaker’s boyfriend died in a “freak accident,” they came out to their mother, who, “overwhelmed,” responded by severing communication for over six months, Ansari recounts.
But when Ansari turned 21, their mother cooked their favorite meal — “her way of extending the olive branch,” Ansari says. In another tasteful gesture of affection, the late boyfriend’s mother baked Ansari her son’s favorite cherry pie, which “we cherished as we went over all of [the] memories.”
Food is “a language of love,” asserts Ansari, who uses this dialect to powerful effect in Sheer Qorma, their new short about a nonbinary person, Saira (Divya Dutta), who brings home their partner, Sitara (Swara Bhaskar), to their religious Indian mother, Ammi (Shabana Azmi), for the first time. In it, the unwillingness to serve a meal and the subsequent gift of a favorite dessert (sheer qorma, a traditional Muslim pudding) signify rejection and then acceptance of LGBTQ+ family members.
In addition to being a groundbreaking production, Sheer Qorma is part of Ansari’s journey of acceptance with their mother. The film is dedicated to her, and in fact, Ansari’s mom prepared the sheer qorma seen in the production.
“In a way, my films are my conversations with my mom. I make them to make my mother understand her child in ways I could never fathom, with my own words,” says Ansari, who has the hope that “someday, she will be able to understand, accept, and embrace her child” without reservation.
Of course, Sheer Qorma — the first Indian film from a nonbinary director with a nonbinary protagonist — aims to sway hearts in the world as well. Its representation is vital. When the poster was released in India in October 2019, anti-LGBTQ+ trolls made #BoycottSheerQorma trend on Twitter. They also bombed the IMDB rating; as of May 2021, it had 2.8 stars out of 10.
However, the film has been lauded on the American LGBTQ+ film circuit, winning Best Short at Frameline, among other honors. Ansari, whose previous film Sisak broke barriers as the first silent queer Indian love story, has been moved by this reception and the power of cinema to spark dialogues about nonbinary people.
“Like I say, ‘Make the children learn!’ But of course, while doing so, entertain them in the best possible way, warm their hearts, perhaps make them shed a tear or three!” Ansari says.
“Love is not a sin” is a mantra uttered in Sheer Qorma, and it is also the takeaway that Ansari wishes for filmgoers. “Sheer Qorma is my love letter to hate,” Ansari says. “How can love between two consenting adults ever be a sin? If there is anything sinful, it must be the hatred and the unacceptance towards love. Sheer Qorma gently reminds us of that. In the end, for us to bloom, it will always be love that will save the day. Not hate.”
Ansari also has advice for LGBTQ+ folks dealing with unaccepting parents: “Be patient with your parents. They are, like the rest of us, learning and unlearning. They are, like all of us, treading through the heteronormative normalcy that has been embedded through our societies…. Show them how transformative love and acceptance can be, by being your authentic self. But above all, choose love and peace for yourself. Your greatest love story in life will be with yourself. That is the greatest romance. So while you are on this journey with your parents, have support in the form of chosen family, friends, and well-wishers who can support you and love you through this. It only gets better. Promise.”
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2021 Film and TV issue, which is out on newsstands October 5, 2021. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.