Queer Or Not: It’s Time For Love

By: Pratishtha Malhotra 

It would not be wrong to say that India, at large, is still wary of homosexuality and there have sadly been too many instances to prove it. Criminalizing same-sex relationships is as far as we can go to tell right. Also, time and again, we hear that cinema is nothing but a reflection of our society and over the years we have seen directors taking too much leeway in depicting homosexuality with disdain,indignity and crude humour on screen. There is evidently a checklist in the hand of the filmmakers as they introduce the effeminate, ‘pansy’ guy with lumpy hands dressed in something pink. The ideology of homophobic humour is one of the reasons why society and cinema go hand in hand as, more often than not, all they become is a prop for someone to laugh at in real and reel life.Going back to where it began, the first notable form of homosexuality depicted on celluloid was in 1895 between two men shown dancing together in the film, THE DICKSON EXPERIMENTAL SOUND FILM. Today, despite the derision and lack of awareness, there has been a movement towards change. It is one of the slowest battles we have fought but till we win the game, we keep our fingers crossed.

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If we look at the cinematic map which has evolved over the years of pretend flamboyance with respect to homosexuals, there is a greater acceptance which allows queer characters to showcase their issues with respect and understanding in return. Hindi cinema is slowly climbing the stairs to perfect the sensitivity and intelligence to depict a homosexual who is as ‘normal’ as a heterosexual. The fire that was started by Deepa Mehta’s trilogy of elements was a tough one to extinguish. Her FIRE, a story of love and passion that grows between two married women in a stifling household, set the ball rolling despite being shut down by Right-wing activists. Loosely based on Ismat Chugtai’s LIHAF, Deepa Mehta’s brave film starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das was spot on.

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Living the life of a homosexual is a taboo in our country and on top of it, if the person is dealing with HIV, only God can evidently help the poor soul. Onir, who has time and again addressed the issues that are faced by homosexuals in the country, gave us MY BROTHER…NIKHIL which made us quiver with real emotion. What if it was my brother? Would I treat him any differently? The film was one of the first to address the need for AIDS awareness from the eyes of a homosexual swimming champion. The world forgot the laurels he brought but only remembered him as a criminal with a disease that is a topic of hush-hush conversation. Right after this, Onir’s crowd-funded gem of a film I AM became the talk of the town one more time. It spoke about gay rights quite openly and was a bitter one to swallow, for many. LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) love has been forced to live in the closet in a country that was declared free 70 years ago.

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But today, the most powerful art form in the world is on our side and is moving far away from the caricature that a homosexual always has been portrayed as.Today’s cinematic gay man is not effeminate and does not dress up in a manner which is obnoxious to homophobic people. Fawad Khan in KAPOOR AND SONS and Manoj Bajpayee in ALIGARH were great examples of this refreshing new trend. The minute the trailer of KAPOOR AND SONS hit the internet, the world presumed it to be another love triangle because that is what we have been fed all our life. Till the end, we did not have any clue about Fawad’s sexuality because, by not being a caricature, he did not drop any hints.

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Similarly, Manoj Bajpayee, one of the greatest actors we have, surrendered himself to his heart-wrenching role in ALIGARH minus any trace of effeminacy. His Professor Siras was a Reader and Chair of Modern Indian Languages at Aligarh Muslim University. He was sacked from his position due to his sexual orientation, after being filmed in a homosexual encounter. All he wanted was the right to have consensual sex in the privacy of his bedroom – a fact that director Hansal Mehta and writer Apurva Asrani wanted to showcase. Despite this powerful film not succeeding in changing the law of the country, it did start a debate again and several voices were raised in support of the suppressed and oppressed in this state, who want nothing more than to love freely like you and I.

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It is heartening to note that while most of the actors who have played iconic homosexual parts onscreen are straight, they feel honoured and even obliged to tell their gay brethren’s story. One such actor is Kalki Koechlin, who gave us the wonderful Laila in MARGARITA WITH A STRAW. Just imagine the discovery of being bi-sexual for one who has cerebral palsy… The film struck a chord with audiences all over as they literally stood up at the end of the film’s screening to applaud this strong, sensitive, joyful work of art. In a country which prefers to pretend differently-abled persons are invisible, revealing their homosexual leanings is a doubly taboo and tricky issue. Hats off to filmmaker Shonali Bose who is bi-sexual herself and based the story on the life of her sister who had acute palsy, in order to depict the importance of showing disabled people as sexual beings! Interestingly the poster boy of this battle since many years has been Karan Johar, who many times has tried to introduce the concept of homosexuality into upper middle-class households.

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It is heartening to note that while most of the actors who have played iconic homosexual parts onscreen are straight, they feel honoured and even obliged to tell their gay brethren’s story. One such actor is Kalki Koechlin, who gave us the wonderful Laila in MARGARITA WITH A STRAW. Just imagine the discovery of being bi-sexual for one who has cerebral palsy… The film struck a chord with audiences all over as they literally stood up at the end of the film’s screening to applaud this strong, sensitive, joyful work of art. In a country which prefers to pretend differently-abled persons are invisible, revealing their homosexual leanings is a doubly taboo and tricky issue. Hats off to filmmaker Shonali Bose who is bi-sexual herself and based the story on the life of her sister who had acute palsy, in order to depict the importance of showing disabled people as sexual beings! Interestingly the poster boy of this battle since many years has been Karan Johar, who many times has tried to introduce the concept of homosexuality into upper middle-class households in his films.

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He did this with humour in films like DOSTANA and KAL HO NA HO and in a shockingly stark fashion in the anthology dedicated to 100 years of cinema, BOMBAY TALKIES. In all three films, there are moments when in the midst of all the fun, an attempt to wipe away homophobia has been attempted. Be it when Priyanka Chopra tells Kiron Kher to accept her son the way he is, or when Kanta Ben, after being so scared of Shah Rukh and Saif’s ‘love affair’, finally comes to terms with it. Recently, Karan finally came out with a biography called ‘Unsuitable Boy’ where we saw him saying,“Everybody knows what my sexual orientation is. I don’t need to scream it out. I won’t only because I live in a country where I could possibly be jailed for saying this. I have become like the poster boy of homosexuality in this country… I wake up to at least 200 hate posts saying, ‘Get out, you’re polluting our nation, you’re dirtying society’ or ‘Shove [IPC Section] 377 up your arse.’ I get this on a daily basis.” Despite all of this, the LGBTQ community was not happy about the remark about his sexuality.

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Probably they just needed to hear, ‘I AM GAY’ rather than a memoir of his chronicles. Even after taking one step in the right direction, many would doubt and take two backwards but fact remains, we have come a long way from the time those two gents danced together up on screen in 1895, looked at us and wanted to say, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’d like to say hello.”

This article was published in the February’17 issue of Cineblitz Magazine.

 

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