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'Rarely covered': First-ever Gujarati web series confronts sexuality taboo

Gujarati web series Varta re Varta Source: Jay Parikh

A web series focuses on how an Indian family's cultural values affect a young Indian woman living abroad and exploring her sexual orientation.

The Gujarati film industry has moved leaps and bounds over the past five years, from traditional films set in rural towns with rural outfits and traditional music - to its first web series on the topic of homosexuality.

As people’s tastes and demands for entertainment have changed in recent times, content providers are also exploring new ways to deliver entertainment to their audiences. Hence, the concept of a web series emerged, which has gained popularity over a short period.

Many young, aspiring film directors are now moving towards making short films and web series for social causes.

Award-winning director, Jay Parikh, from the city of Vadodara in the western Indian state of Gujarat, is one of them, producing a web series called 'Varta Re Varta' - or The Story Tales - in the Gujarati language.

'Varta re Varta' was nominated in Jaipur film festival 2019, while the first season of this web series was selected for Los Angeles CineFest in 2016. 

Actress Ria Patel and Director Jay Parikh during the filming of Varta re Varta
Actress Ria Patel and Director Jay Parikh during the filming of Varta re Varta

“While web series has been growing in popularity in other parts of the world and in metro cities in India, a  web series, especially in the Gujarati language, is quite a new concept," Jay Parikh told SBS Gujarati. 

"Hence, I decided to create something for Gujarati audience and directed this (Varta Re Varta) web series".

“Varta Re Varta” and self-acceptance

“The heart of the series is about ‘self-acceptance’, which enables the lead character to accept her homosexuality and fight against society,” Jay said.

“As the topic of homosexuality is rarely covered from a female perspective in the Indian film industry, I was very confident that people will watch and connect with this unique concept.”  

The plot

Lead actress Ria Patel plays a young female student from Anand city in Gujarat goes to Los Angles to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. During her struggle to get a foothold in the entertainment industry she discovers her orientation after which the story revolves around not only self-acceptance but also dealing with pressure from her family to get married.

Unaware of her sexual orientation, her parents continue to send eligible male suitors to Los Angeles in the hope of a traditional arranged marriage. 

Ria subsequently finds an unexpected source of strength and support in her brother who moves to Los Angeles to live with her.  

First Gujarati web series on the topic of homosexuality 'Varta re Varta'
First Gujarati web series on the topic of homosexuality 'Varta re Varta'

“The series – Varta Re Varta, is a first-ever web series produced in the Gujarati language and the series not only became popular amongst Gujarati viewers but was also accepted by non-Gujarati audiences,” said Jay.

De-criminalisation of homosexuality in India

In September 2018, the Indian Supreme Court partially struck down Section 377 by decriminalising consensual sex between same-sex adults. In the decision, the court said that the 160-year-old law banning sex between same-sex adults could not be regarded as constitutional and the court sub sequentially legalised sexual activity between consenting same-sex adults.

Accepting the challenging role

Indian Australian Ria Patel says she accepted the challenging role of a student struggling with sexual orientation.

“I felt that homosexuality is something which is not accepted in the Gujarati culture and people hesitate to discuss the topic at home. So, as an actor, I accepted the challenging role offered to me, and I am happy to be a part of it,” she said.

Actress Ria Patel
Jay Parikh

Parental support 

Ms Patel says she believes parental and family support is crucial for young people especially when they are struggling with their sexuality and identity. She credits her acting career to her parents.

“My parents have always supported me in becoming an actress. Initially, there was a time when I took it up as a hobby, but my mother motivated me to go for an audition in the US, and I started my career as an actress. I feel every parent should encourage their kids to follow their passion and accept them for who they are."

Gujarati web series
Jay Parikh

Director Jay Parikh started his career as an actor and later on tried his hand at directing movies.

“I do not have anyone in my family who has a strong connection in the film industry, but it was my passion that encouraged me to do something in this creative field.

“Earlier, I started my journey in acting, but while making one of these films, I realised that storytelling is something which fascinates me and later, it turned out to be a passion. I produced my first film in 2009 and have been producing many documentaries since.” 

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