How was homosexuality treated on celluloid? When waves of sexual revolution swept through the west during the 1960s, reflections were advent in pop culture and literature. In India, cinema was bound by Victorian puritanism and for us, it took another decade. It was during the 70s, in all of cinema’s history, that the true representation of the alternate sexuality was depicted. The worldwide gay rights movement nudged the filmmakers and thereafter alternate sexuality was a commonly explored theme. For Indian filmmakers to begin even hinting at the idea of homosexuality, it took another decade.
Breaking away from stereotypical descriptions, the evolution of queer representations has been somewhat massive. Entering an era of acceptance, we hope – queer characters and issues will be seen with more respect and understanding in film and cinema, in comparison to the 1900s. Hello 2019!
From Fire to the upcoming roar, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga – we’re talking about everything you can expect from the future.
Fire was passed uncut by the censor board on to the silver screen in 1998 with a rating of ‘Adult’. Fire is one of the first mainstream Indian cinema films to explicitly show homosexuality and was hence the part of a new freedom, the film was path-breaking. A lesbian relationship amidst a close-minded society, the movie showed Deepa’s courage as an artist while Hindu fundamentalist formations disregarded it as obscene and offensive to our sacred culture.
Floral shirts and swaying hips, there have been times when Bollywood heavily stereotyped homosexuality into crass jokes, the characters almost there to provide some sort of comic relief. And the stereotyping isn’t unique to Dostana (2008) where two straight guys who pretend to be gay to secure a posh Miami apartment just fail to evoke the laughs. Ma da ladla bigad gaya? It is hard to forget Kanta Behn’s scandalized face from Kal Ho Na Ho (2003). She is so homophobic, she faints. The worst sin? they were not even remotely funny. Rishi Kapoor cross-dressing in Rafoo Chakkar (1975) or Amitabh pulling off a wacky drag act in Lawaaris (1981), Bollywood’s understanding seemed to be clouded with a thought, that men in skirts were the way to tickle a bone or two. Filmmakers were only half serious about exploring the theme of homosexuality with sincerity.
It was only in the recent years that they tried. Considering Bollywood’s skewed portrayal of homosexuality in most mainstream movies, Kapoor & Sons (2016) was unusual. The movie had a soul. Our “machismo male hero” was this time a protagonist with zero labels, enjoying a not so mediocre depiction. The movie beautifully places the character’s person-hood before its sexual orientation. We all still remember Abhishek from Bol Bachchan, don’t we? The audience applauded, it was a true entertainer for the masses with its bouts of hilarity. My jaw hurt too, but from having my mouth hung wide open.
Then there were movies like Aligarh (2016), Margarita With A Straw (2015) and My Brother… Nikhil (2005) in contrast, which were distinctively, magnificently evocative. My Brother… Nikhil is the kind of film that emboldens us to open our minds. Aligarh is a real-life story of Ramchandra Siras, a professor at Aligarh Muslim University, who is gay. Shrouded in so much controversy that the film was banned in Aligarh. The plot of the film is haunting, Siras is suspended on the grounds of morality, also sacked from his position. Why? because we don’t understand the plight of the community. A sympathetic journalist takes his case to court and the court rules in his favour, his suspension is revoked. BUT Siras is found dead. Aligarh was a hard-hitting milestone for cinema in India.
THEY ARE JUST LIKE US. Bollywood’s spoofing-gay-men-mainstream-screams failed to empathize, they failed to enlighten the public, they made zero efforts to help the masses understand the cultural phenomenon of the queer movement.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga will be the force in the industry, where homosexual characters are used as merely fillers in the plot. The film excites us because for the first time ever our mainstream cinema, particularly given its lack of such content, will hail a romance between Sonam Kapoor and another woman. We hope in 2019 queer representations on cinema will be taken seriously.