Five years since the decriminalization of homosexuality in India, its portrayal in Indian Cinema makes progress, albeit slowly.
We’re in the age of new-generation ideologies, new-generation lifestyle, new-generation movies, new-generation romance and so on. Perhaps, everything about the new-generation is welcomed with open arms, but what about new-generation romance? Here’s an apt example to explain it. The recently-released Dedh Ishqiya starring Madhuri Dixit, Huma Qureshi, Naseerudin Shah and Arshad Warsi portrays the new generation romance in a very subtle manner. The love portrayed here is the bonding between two people of the same gender. Now let’s get straight to the point.
How effectively has Indian Cinema represented the homosexual community onscreen? Homosexuality has been stereotyped, looked down upon and mocked, time and again. But there is a need to change. A change which gives respect and dignity to the portrayal of homosexuals in Bollywood. Will Raj ever be able to meet his Raj, or Geet meet her Geet with honor on the Bollywood screen? The classic movie, Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge closes with Raj holding out his hand to Simran from a moving train. Ultimately her father lets her go and says, ‘Jaa Simran jaa, jee le apni zindagi.’ Will any father be able to say the same to his homosexual son or daughter, atleast onscreen?
What does the term ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ imply? Has homosexuality been part of the Indian culture long enough to be portrayed onscreen. Or is it just another Western import? Well, same-sex love and romance has a long history and dates back to the times of the Rig Veda. But over time, laws came into existence declaring homosexuality a crime. It’s been 5 years since the decriminalization of homosexuality in India. But has that offered a dignified space in Bollywood to portray the issue with respect? Though several filmmakers have offered homosexuality a space in their films, but has that portrayal been respectful enough? Here are a few examples:
In Dostana (2008), Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham pretend to be gay partners to secure a plush apartment. Though it was an laudable attempt to reflect the issue, bring homosexuality to mainstream Bollywood and show acceptance through a mother accepting her fake gay son’s choice, but ultimately the entire ‘concern’ was portrayed in a humorous and heavily-stereotyped manner.
Portraying homosexuality as a humorous subject feeds the audience with misassumptions about it, affecting the integrity of homosexuals in the society and further, creating a discrimination between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The exaggerated gay persona portrayed in the film has always led to the audience roaring with laughter in reaction to the ‘gay’ scenes. Dostana, unfortunately presents every gay character comically, hence stereotyping the very concept of homosexuality.
Paying tribute to 100 years of Indian Cinema, an anthology, Bombay Talkies (2013) had a short film, Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh directed by Karan Johar which dealt with the love story of two men, Avinash and Dev played by Saqib Saleem and Randeep Hooda respectively. A bold and definitely a respectable concept, the sad part was Rani Mukerji’s (Dev’s wife) reaction that reflected contempt and disgust for people in love with people of the same gender.
The movie Dunno Y… Na Jaane Kyon (2010) focuses on the reality homosexuals are forced to confront: whether or not to disclose their sexual orientation, protecting family honor and sacrificing their love for social norms. This movie dealt with the subject very intelligently but had a depressing ending.
Other movies that dealt with the same issue were Isha Koppikar and Amrita Arora starring Girlfriend (2004). Director Madhur Bhandarkar briefly touched on this subject in his award-winning movie Fashion (2008) and Page 3 (2005). Filmmaker Onir gave a glimpse of gay relationship in his films I AM (2011). Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996) ignited controversies owing to its portrayal of lesbianism, tracing the story of two married yet unhappy sister-in-laws played by Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. These were just a few movies to be named.
There were several other films directed on this delicate subject, which unfortunately, never made it to the big screen owing to the fear of rejection and cause of controversies.
Be it mockery or controversies or disrespect, why is this subject always stereotyped on the Bollywood screen? The answer is simple, we’re a hypocritical nation and we are yet to come to terms with accepting such relationships. It’s sad, but true. The SC’s refusing to review the ban on gay sex imposed in December only firmly brings to light the repressive society we live in. If we can show modernity in the content that’s otherwise displayed in cinema and other popular culture, why not show some respect to these individuals as well? It’s about time that filmmakers step up and use movies as a powerful medium to educate and enlighten society. Let’s hope Bollywood would do justice to homosexuality and give it some screen space with love and dignity and a ‘Happy Ending’ too.