‘Call Me By Your Name’ And Dowry: A Summer Spent Spiralling

The first time I watched the movie Call Me By Your Name, I was not okay. Apathy, self pity and overall morosity reigned supreme when I noticed the title tucked away into a little corner of my screen on the Netflix window. I had just stepped out of a family-approved relationship (aka an arranged marriage setup) with an army of facts hitherto unknown about myself, deep respect for background checks, and a promise to never doubt my instincts again.

I also gratefully reconnected with my family. The very values I had rebelled against – mostly for fun – held immeasurable value now. Reliability, consistency and a regard for truth over the flashy and cheesy was a hard lesson to learn. For a while, I exclusively re-watched all my favourite sitcoms precisely for the reason that I had seen them before and knew what to expect. I didn’t need to worry about any unpleasant truths. 

And so, when Netflix decided to persistently recommend Call Me By Your Name, I ignored it. Once. Twice. By the third time, I decided I had nothing to lose. I pressed play. I’d heard about the movie, it had been hailed as one of those slow and deep masterpieces – like hidden treasure or a beautiful meadow you stumble upon when you fatefully make a wrong turn in the mountains.

Timothee Chalamet, one of the main leads, was already an Instagram favourite. 

Away from the medium-sized laptop screen, my life lay in shambles. Organised shambles, to be sure and one that I had chosen myself, but shambles nevertheless. We were in the midst of yet another lockdown, I had just broken off my roka (betrothal ceremony). I would do the same again in a heartbeat.

I had decided to tie my fate with another human being, my parents had embraced another family. We had all collectively engaged in the WhatsApp banter that is yet another rite of passage. Jokes had been exchanged, challenges on who would present a better front at the wedding had been cheerfully issued, wedding shopping had begun in full flow.

I had – several times at this point – entered a showroom and uttered the words, ‘Where can I see your bridal collection?

It was all happening. 

And then it all unravelled. I come from a family that has been assiduous, for generations now, to never give or demand dowry. When presented with expensive gifts, we shy away and pass them on to the two people starting a life together. This is why it was doubly shocking to my already-cynical soul that the family who had so effortlessly welcomed me into their lives felt fully justified to ask for what can only be described as dowry.

Apparently, I – a well-educated and earning member of society – had to pay for the privilege of marrying a man. He was six years older than I was, had lied about his H1B visa, and was all-around insecure. 

Wanting to mend things, my parents readily agreed to the demands. And I readily refused. It wasn’t just the principle of the thing in question here. It was a betrayal of the worst kind. Someone who could get behind his family over something like this could never be someone I could raise a daughter or a son with. It was a betrayal of all the various compatibility tests I had put our relationship through, trying, with all my might, to avoid where we eventually ended up – on completely opposite ends of the morality landscape. 

Also read: Dowry and the ‘Great’ Indian Marriage

I was dealing with the aftermath of all that when I ended up watching Call Me By Your Name. I plundered the beautifully written scenes where innocent, all-consuming and painfully youthful gay love was being explored even as I unfollowed accounts of newly-married people on my Instagram feed. I drank in the gorgeous and sun-drenched Italian landscapes filled with shallow turquoise pools overlaid with ancient stone fountains. The casual town squares with tiny wooden tables always laden with fresh bright-white table clothes and bottles of amber wine always a call away. Honest conversations between an intelligent, wise father and an extremely sensitive son about both the joys and fears that come with homosexuality in an inhospitable era. 

I slowly began to scribble again. I wrote swathes of notes on my MacBook. Purging myself of all that was ugly and very real. I wrote of deeply green trees and the mostly funny fate I had found myself contending with. I knew that my creativity and writing lay locked behind an unmoving door – but also that the key was always there for me to find. And that it was okay to wait until I mustered up the urge to even try to find it.

I’m not saying that the movie shook me out of my stupor or made my pain vanish – that came much later. But it did offer me a breath of fresh air. It reminded me of beautiful things, things I had always wanted and maybe would always want. It made me think about the key again and it made me open nearly-forgotten Google docs. It made me want to want again. And I think that’s the whole point of great art.

Mehar Luthra is a 28-year-old coffeeholic currently living in the always-rainy town of Galway, Ireland. Not nearly as anxious anymore. Survives on pancakes and will work for Nutella.

Featured image: Warner Bros. Pictures