Updated: Aug 23, 2020
Directed by: Tushar Tyagi
Written by: Corey Wright and Sanyam Kumar
Starring: Sachin Bhatt, Edward Sonnenblick, Dipannita Sharma
In the UK in 2005, it became legal for LGBTQ+ people to adopt. Today, in 2020, this is only legal in 14% of countries worldwide. In the moving and vitally important short Saving Chintu, Tushar Tyagi (multiple award-winning filmmaker) and Ritika Jayaswal explore issues of acceptance and the power of boundless love. Jayaswal states that the, ‘2018 ruling by the Supreme Court where they decriminalised homosexuality’ in India was a breakthrough moment yet it is still, ‘difficult’ for LGBTQ+ people ‘to build a family or adopt… Apart from legal acceptance’ she feels ‘cultural acceptance is a far bigger challenge’. Saving Chintu also illuminates continuing prejudice against HIV+ children and adults.
Tyagi’s former projects focussed on raising social awareness on issues such as celibacy, prostitution, poverty and abusive relationships. Always engaging and thought-provoking, his work typically presents individuals who are both flawed and hopeful, who make mistakes yet also make brave choices. Saving Chintu is no exception.
By interconnecting and interweaving two narratives about adoption, Tyagi and Jayaswal expose problems faced by LGBTQ+ and HIV+ people around the world. Two sets of potential adoptive parents – a heterosexual Indian couple and gay American couple Sam (Sachin Bhatt) and Oliver (Edward Sonnenblick) – are contrasted. All four potential parents are warm, loving and eagerly anticipating adopting. Sam and Oliver return to Sam’s birth country, India, to adopt aptly named Chintu (meaning love to all, sweetness and sun) who is HIV+. Sam is assisted by college friend Mira (Dipannita Sharma). But whilst naïve American Oliver worries about what to pack, Indian-born Sam is all too aware of the potential homophobic prejudice that could stand in their way. When they reach the orphanage, Sam tells the manager that Oliver is his ‘friend who came to show support’ and pretends Mira is his wife. During impassioned discussions back at the hotel room, Sam reveals he planned this all along to ensure he got the child he’d ‘loved [his] ‘whole life before [he] even knew he existed’. His angry outburst to Oliver that ‘[we] were not good. What we were was gay’ is extremely powerful and vividly portrayed the suffering of LGBTQ+ couples. By contrast, the heterosexual couple eat dinner, drink wine and decide whether to adopt a boy or girl. The lack of barriers for them is significant.
The authorities and status quo are personified in the form of the orphanage manager, who is primarily concerned with money and Sam’s conformity to social norms. He also states adopting ‘the AIDs patient’ is ‘brave’ showing abhorrent yet inherent societal prejudice. In addition, his repeated references to the money makes us question what ‘price’ Sam will ultimately have to pay (and what he’s willing to sacrifice) to adopt Chintu. Tension is successfully created and maintained as the illegal fake marriage certificate is examined and the manager’s questions lead to a strange request for Sam to ‘kiss’ Mira.
Significantly, young Chintu remains off-screen for the majority of the short but the toll the adoption process takes on Sam and Oliver is shown in detail. The ever-present surgeries, medicines and references to sickness imply that not only are the population struggling to remain healthy, but are sick of discrimination and prejudice. Recurring motifs of cars, buses and journeys illustrate the progress that needs to be made in attitudes to HIV+ and LGBTQ+ people. The banner on the bus reads, ‘Together we fight HIV’. Saving Chintu shows love and bravery ultimately leads to transformation at a personal but potentially societal level. This film reminds us that what we have in common with each other is always more significant than our differences.