Bollywood’s Tryst with Homosexuality
The Bollywood film industry is always rife with controversies, stories and rumours with pages dedicated to it in the newspapers. When the new Censor Board Chief demanded muting of the word ‘lesbian’ in the movie Dum Lagaa Ke Haisha on grounds of morality, we were brought closer to the portrayal of homosexuality in Hindi cinema over the years. Here’s looking at a few.
Released in 1996 and written and directed by Deepa Mehta, this was one of the mainstream films that raised many significant questions about the societal perception and reaction to same sex lovers and their freedom of speech. Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das share a common space of being unsatisfied in their marriages and are tied into them by a claustrophobically rigid societal structure. Both women strive to break free emotionally and physically and their sexual love is artful, warm and sad. The film was protested by various fringe Hindu organisations because the characters were named Radha and Sita. Extreme nudity by Nandita Das was also criticised.
My Brother Nikhil
One of the most sensitive films to have emerged from Bollywood, it portrays the journey of a young man Nikhil (Sanjay Suri) who is ostracised by the society for being HIV+. The story is set in Goa, at a time when AIDS awareness was at a low point and his lover Nigel (Purab Kohli) and his sister Anamika are among the very few people who stand by him. This film struck a note with the audience because of its subtle and heavy emotional quotient and a beautiful, thought provoking story.
Away from the commercial eye but still falling under the purview of popular Indian cinema with a slight twist, this movie, starring Kushal Punjabi and Rahul Bose, is considered one of the first gay films to be released in India back in 1995. The film is divided in six segments, each based on a poem by R. Raj. Rao. It became very controversial for its explicit sex scene in a library but deserves credit for bringing the topic of homosexuality into Indian living room discussions.
Dunno Why…Na Jaane Kyon
This film was screened at international film festivals and received many accolades but in India it was shunned out of multiplexes soon after its release. It is a love story between a male club dancer and a middle-aged married man and the kiss between them became one of the reasons for its ban. It is also rumored to have won praises from the senior NCP leader and former deputy chief minister, Chhagan Bhujbal, for actor Yuvraaj Parashar’s portrayal of his character with sensitivity. Critics complained about the plot lacking a dramatic punch but the subject of homosexuality was handled with sensitivity. It may not be India’s Brokeback Mountain but it is definitely a step forward for Indian cinema.
Kal Ho Na Ho
This film has a few moments that seem a tad bit insulting to the LGBT community. The scene in which Saif and Shahrukh are in bed hugging and cooing and the maid, Kantaben, mistakes them for a gay couple reflects the unaccepting nature of society. The gay innuendos in this film may be funny sometimes but ultimately come across as crass.
Ragini MMS 2
A heady mix of horror erotica, the film treads a one-dimensional storyline. The kissing scene between actors Sunny Leone and Sandhya Mridul created a buzz but it was pleasantly surprising that the Censor Board approved the scene to be shown in movie halls. Maybe this was because there are no other same sex scenes and the film’s plot is otherwise completely unrelated. However, it does not entirely negate the question as to why have it in the movie at all.
Girlfriend opened to violent protests from the Bharatiya Janata Party. It takes an urban approach on exploring the sexual nature of a relationship between two best friends; one more possessive of the other. The love-making in the movie caught viewers unawares, hiking up the shock value of the film. Starring Isha Koppikar and Amrita Arora, the film did not get into subtleties of same sex love and could be a disappointment those looking for depth. It is daring and progressive for our times, purely from a visual perspective, for a film that tells the story of two lesbian lovers.
David Dhawan goes a little too far with Kiran’s (Suresh Menon) character being portrayed as overly gay and horny and lusting after Bhaskar (Govinda), despite being repeatedly rebuked. Kiran is not completely accepted in the society and according to reviews, his ‘gay’ shenanigans have been the primary source of humor in the movie. While this may not seem like a problem at all but when Bollywood is used as a tool to express the intricacies of same sex love, this sort of portrayal refuses to help.
Bollywood’s exploration and perception of same sex love throws light on the interesting dynamics of how it’s portrayed in different films. Some filmmakers have chosen to deal with homosexuality in a sensitive, eye-opening manner but many of them approach it through lighthearted, often homophobic jokes. It is evident that though society claims to have a progressive mindset it reacts regressively when faced with the subject of homosexuality in movies. It just shows that we are nothing short of hypocrites.
Movies, though a means of entertainment, often show a mirror to society. It brings us to a significant question – When it comes to the subject of homosexuality in cinema, is there a middle ground that can be reached in the near future? Only time will tell.
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