Headline: STOP WINKING
Introline: Bollywood, don’t represent homosexuality through contempt, innuendo and silence
|Salaam: Dedh Ishqiya does not make a song and dance about its heroines' lesbian relationship|
“So Karan Johar is completely out of the closet!” a friend wrote on Facebook this week. She was referring to an episode of the talk show Koffee With Karan in which KJo proposed a double date to his guests Anushka Sharma and Anurag Kashyap: he with Kashyap, Sharma with her boyfriend. Coming out? Not really. The double date suggestion is just an addition to a long history of gay jokes, hints and innuendo from and about Bollywood’s most-famously-assumed-to-be-but-never-officially-confirmed-to-be-homosexual filmmaker on the television programme he hosts.
Of Mumbai’s many directors who are rumoured to be gay, Johar alone has fuelled speculation about himself with those never-ending gags on his show. Many in the LGBT community also see the gay comedy in several of his films as playing to the gallery in the interests of his bank balance, contributing to the mockery of an already ridiculed people. Onir — arguably Bollywood’s only openly gay filmmaker — outrightly condemned Johar when I interviewed him in 2012 for my book. “It’s absolutely okay not to do films with gay characters but don’t do the opposite where you harm your own community,” he said.
The point is no one has a right to demand that Johar publicly acknowledge his sexual preferences. Coming out is a difficult, intensely personal decision; maybe he’s not gay, maybe he is, either way it’s not our business. However, it does impact a serious cause when he joins most of Bollywood in persistently referring to homosexuality — both off and on screen — with contempt, clichés, wink-wink-nudge-nudge humour or at best, silence.
Celina Jaitley has been an exceptional, pro-gay voice from mainstream Bollywood for years now. Shortly after the Supreme Court’s December 2013 ruling upholding the criminalisation of homosexual sex under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Imran Khan starred in a satirical video reviling prevailing prejudices about homosexuality. Both stars go against their industry’s long-standing norms, typified by Amitabh Bachchan’s reaction to this question from a viewer on a television show I hosted just a few years back: which male star would he like cast opposite him in a remake of Dostana (the Abhishek Bachchan-John Abraham-starrer about two men pretending to be gay)? Bachchan Senior passed the question. When Section 377 was incessantly in the news though in end-2013, he voluntarily — even if ambiguously — addressed the court ruling on his blog.
If a septuagenarian Bachchan can marginally overcome his unease with the subject, possibly because of the recent media discussions on gay rights, then imagine the impact on young film-goers if mainstream Bollywood were to routinely give us non-stereotypical gay characters with an everydayness to them — anyone whose homosexuality is neither a cause for mirth nor a major plot point in the film, but a mere circumstance not meriting comment.
Abhishek Chaubey’s Dedh Ishqiya is a milestone in that respect. Unlike most mainstream Bollywood productions that serve up homosexuals who are limp-wristed, lecherous and/or comical men, this film’s same-sex lovers are not stereotyped and — wonder of wonders! — they are women. Unlike Onir’s ground-breaking My Brother Nikhil and a segment in his omnibus I Am (both empathetic gems), Dedh Ishqiya is not an issue-based story with homosexuality as a central theme either. That Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi play lesbians is a revelation made in passing in the film, without a snigger or a snort.
So it turns out the situation is not without hope. Johar himself directed a restrained even if flawed short feature about a gay man in 2013’s four-film anthology Bombay Talkies. Now comes news that Ekta Kapoor is producing a Romeo and Juliet with a gay spin. Back in 2005, Kapoor’s Kyaa Kool Hai Hum featured Bobby Darling in one of Hindi cinema’s crudest portrayals ever of an LGBT person. Her new film is a chance to compensate for that travesty. Question is: does she care enough to want to redeem herself?
(Note: This column was first published in The Hindu Businessline’s BL Ink supplement on February 15, 2014)
Photograph courtesy: Facebook.com/dedhishqiya