By Ami Bhansali
Illustration by Shikha Sreenivas
Shocking – Local aspiring filmmakers think of the groundbreaking idea of making a lockdown film, while in lockdown.
The local aspiring filmmakers in the headline happen to be my best friend and I. We are pretty self-aware that way, so we decided that the whole film won’t be based on the pandemic; it will be about other things that have never been explored before like loneliness in isolation with the background of a global pandemic. It would be a zero-budget film and we would write, produce, direct AND act in it. We were convinced that we would be legendary and that no indie film has ever done that. Ever.
Cut to, second wave of Covid-19 in India.
Legendary local aspiring filmmakers have decided that they’re too good for a lockdown film. We are 22, technically proper grown-ups now. We should not be making a zero-budget film. We are talented and we deserve production. For now, our producers have the same surnames as us, and they’re more disappointed in us than they were before, but we would make them proud this time.
This new film would be about two friends.
We decided to write about ourselves, of course.
The film would have lots of swearing, some sex, casual drug usage. Fuck, we cannot show it to our producers.
“It’s eventually a story about friendship, you know? Like I want that scene in the end where we’re both passing a joint and just chilling and everything is going to be okay,” my best friend said. Hearing that made me breathe better.
It had been months since I last saw him.
With the rapidly rising cases in Mumbai, I was being really careful and I hardly stepped out. I was mindlessly consuming content, sleeping away my days, working just enough to not get into trouble and swiping people left and right (mostly left) on dating apps. Even before the pandemic hit, when it came to relationships I was always stuck at the ‘talking stage’. The longest, most elaborate talking stages until one of us backs out or ghosts or suddenly realises that they have feelings for their best friend or one of us is too ‘gemini’ for the other or one of us mutes the other on call because they talk too much and too loud at 3am etc etc etc. The pandemic only made the talking stages shorter and ghosting easier. It also solidified my belief that I might actually die alone and unloved.
I never stopped swiping though. Not because I was still hopeful, I swiped simply out of habit. It was mostly girls I had ghosted/been ghosted by. Random queer acquaintances I had seen around, couples looking for a third (of course). Some new people, yes it wasn’t all that bad. Then there was her, let’s call her Z. I have known Z for over 3 years, we are great friends, she introduced me to King Princess, made me watch Skam (Spanish one, s2 is very gay) and has been my plus one to so many gigs. We see each other on these apps, waste our super likes on each other and bond over failed talking stages. Just your typical gay girl stuff where we flirt so much, are so close, constantly hit on each other, share everything but have no idea if all these feelings are platonic or romantic.
I super liked her.
2. The pandemic situation was a little better and I could find a small window where it would be safe to travel to Pune. My best friend was renting out a place there. It was a perfect escape from our respective hometowns. I just had to pack my bags, get myself there and I knew I’d be well taken care of. So I did.
We began writing together.
The script had progressed. Our characters were coming out to be relatable, likeable and strong. We were touching the right topics and maybe this could actually be something?
More characters were introduced. Romantic interests obviously.
While my best friend had dug out a lot from his own experiences to write his part, I wasn’t sure if the script needed me to have a partner. I gave myself one anyway. It somehow validated my character in the script to have someone care for them, love them, look out for them.
Smoking our second joint, we decided it would be a good idea to discuss our real dating lives so we could write about our characters’ dating life better. That conversation, that exact moment was when I realised how different my straight boy best friend’s life was from mine. With my gender indentity and sexulaity spilled across the spectrum like blood on the wall after a gruesome murder of my love life, I don’t really know what I was doing.
So while he went on about his latest hook up story, I sat there in my queer confusion.
My queer confusion feels very irrelevant—it’s 2021, most people I know are queer, most queer content creators I know are creating well, queer content. All the first queer books, songs, films have been made. I’m pretty privileged to have a supportive community and all the resources I could possibly need to help myself. Nothing about what I’m feeling is unique and I don’t really have anything else to talk about. I can’t really point out what exactly I’m struggling with. And explaining this to my good-looking straight-boy best friend takes too many words that I can’t find in myself. So I took out my phone, and texted Z—I knew she’d understand—
“dhbfhbgtjjhioyjhijytin” or any other variation of keyboard smash, that’s code for I’m feeling feelings and I don’t know what to do with them in genZ.
We hadn’t spoken for a few days. Weeks, actually. It had always been like that. We texted when we felt like and usually nothing had changed, except this time, she said she might have a girlfriend
My heart sank a little.
3. We were now at the end of our script, not too bad for a first draft.
Good amount of conflict, kind of funny, talks about the things that matter.
How do we wrap it up now?
The original plan was to end it (spoiler alert) with my best friend’s character leaving a restaurant fuming after a fight and my character follows him out.
I’ve always found the act of following someone out as this special deal of love and tolerance amongst two people. Who gets to follow you out? When you turn your back to the world, who gets to tap your shoulder?
Back in school when your friend would elbow you and tell you that her stomach is paining, she might throw up, she runs out of the class and you are her best friend so you follow her out, the teacher knows and she lets you go.
Or you are a little older in college and you’re sitting in a class when your friend’s boyfriend is breaking up with her over text and she is about to cry. Even though it’s a group of 5, everyone knows when she runs out to cry, you get to follow her. You’re the best friend and she will need specifically you to tell her that it’s going to be okay.
Getting to follow someone out has always been this personal privilege for me. And I thought my character would get it too.
But my best friend suggested that his character’s love interest follows him out and not my character.
Dude you haven’t even known her that long??
Are you going to let a girl come in between us?
Did your character ditch my character for a girl?
Will you ditch me for a girl?
Is it my personal insecurity or a plothole in the script?
Am I jealous of a fictional character that hasn’t been written yet?
I should’ve known that it was going to get complicated. I mean we are friends trying to make a film about friendship with the characters based on us as friends. This is some Meta-Dosti shit we are trying to make.
So when he said “Nahi meri girlfriend mere peeche aayegi, tu kyun aayegi” I took it way more personally than I should have. Why would his character want a random pretty girl who may or may not be the love of his life to follow him out and not my character, his best friend? Why would my best friend tell me it’s a story about friendship and not let me follow him out? I felt like the gay best friend in a straight man’s story of self-discovery.
He didn’t mean to make me feel like that obviously, but at that moment the script and life, so closely related, intertwined in my head and I couldn’t help but feel abandoned.
Imposter syndrome decided to come knocking just then. I felt I had made a huge mistake by trying to write a character about myself; in my head I declared it was narcissistic, uncreative and pretentious. I wanted to say it out loud but how could I when my best friend had also written a character about himself? Someone who always tried to do the right thing, someone who always stood up for the people he loved.
And I obviously shouldn’t have texted Z. I wasn’t sure if my heart sank because I liked her and I realised it only now when I don’t have a chance? Or did I get sad because she found somebody and I didn’t?
How and why was I so upset with both my best friends?
I didn’t have a solid reason to be this upset, with either of them.
They’re the two people who understand the biggest and most important parts of me. With one I share my love of films, with the other my queerness. Both of them were there for me, when I needed them.
I want to use better words to describe that feeling but I felt plain and simple stupid. Not in an invalidate feelings way stupid, but in a why-would-you-feel-that-in-the-first-place stupid. Both of which I’ve been told not to feel by infographics on mental health pages on instagram but sometimes humans just need to feel stupid in peace before they can ask their best friends to love them.
I took some time with it. Felt stupid.
I told my best friend about my confusion with Z.
Shocking – Queer people confused if their flirting is romantic or platonic!!
I told him I might have feelings for her to which he said – told you so. But I might also simply be jealous and would miss the (huge) part of our friendship where we cried about not finding anyone. I don’t think I’ll talk to Z about this though. So that part of this essay (and me) still remains one big keyboard smash.
I told my best friend that I was feeling stupid.
He called me stupid and said we should rework the ending. It’s still a story about friendship. Maybe I follow him out or he follows me out.
So that evening, my last one in Pune, we kept the script and our phones aside for a while.
We just sat at his balcony, watching people go by on the road below, passing a joint and everything might just be okay?
Ami Bhansali, is a writer, filmmaker based in Mumbai.