Does Bollywood owe the LGBTQ Community an apology?
It’s been a few months since the Supreme Court amended Sec 377 of the Indian Penal Code, making it legal for people who don’t fit into the traditional nar-naari structure to live with dignity.
The move was hailed across the nation, except for a few religious nutcases. Bollywood was one of the loudest cheerers of the move. Tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook updates – you’d think they were this progressive block of artists who were always sympathetic to the LGBTQ cause.
I find this extremely hypocritical, since for decades, Bollywood has minted money by depicting LGBTQ characters in ridiculous ways. Cheap laughs, snide remarks, utter dehumanisation – they used the community and abused it at the same time.
I wanted to write an angry post about it, but it felt hypocritical on my part. I do not belong to the community, and I did not want to go down the rabbithole of moralistic sermons. What I have done instead is ask people on social media about the most memorable LGBTQ characters.
Here are the results of the poll in ascending order of popularity. I understand this is not an academic endeavour. Amartya Sen probably wouldn’t approve of my research methodology but hey! I am not being paid by World Bank to write this article.
Crossdressers in 'Humshakal'. Image source: YouTube.com
10. Suresh Menon in Various Roles
Suresh Menon is actually quite a funny guy. His podcast Kaan Masti with Jose is gold. Menon has been working in mainstream Bollywood since 1997, and has also been a part of wonderful shows like Ikke Pe Ikka and The Great Indian Comedy Show.
Unfortunately, Suresh Menon today is known as the ‘hain hain hain’ guy - the tone that is used to show gay men in our films. Because after all, that is what Bollywood propagated for decades. That if you’re gay, everybody is prey.
Being gay means propositioning men all the time, and cracking jokes on carrots and bananas. Nobody wants to know what you do for a living, or if your Maths teacher hit you in school, or what your aims in life are. It’s all about ‘hain hain hain, mere chulhe mein apna kela daalo hain hain hain hain hain’.
Suresh Menon’s roles in Partner, where he plays Katrina’s best friend (because gay people are all nice and bubbly and wonderful to take along for shopping). Or his role in Mastizaade, where his character is called Son Das. It is unfortunate that the actor has been reduced to the stereotype, and Suresh Menon was 10thmost mentioned by Netziens in India.
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9. The Gritty, Shitty World of Madhur Bhandarkar
For an entire decade (the 2000s), India fell in love with Madhur Bhandarkar. Perhaps the audiences were tired of the over-the-top sappiness of the 90s. Perhaps Bhandarkar was present at the right time. He made Chandni Bar, a gritty, realistic film about dance bars.
It was a hit, and Indians got to witness further extensions of the Bhandarkar universe. Here, rich men are all crooked and corrupt. Rich women cheat on their husbands with drivers and gym trainers. The poor are all noble; crushed under the burden of poverty.
So obsessed was Madhur Bhandarkar with realistic cinema, that he began naming his films realistically too. A film about the corporate world was called Corporate, one about Page 3 people was called Page 3. And a film on the life of a heroine was called, well, Heroine.
Bhandarkar’s seedy universe has several LGBTQ characters. On the surface, they are not there for the laughs. But scratch the surface, and they are all deviant, deprived, depraved, or depressed. There are no back-stories, no happy endings – their sexual preferences have completely taken over their personality. India loved these movies. Bhandarkar got to work with the biggest stars, and we also gave him three National Awards.
Abhishek Bachchan was one of the first celebrities to express support for the Supreme Court ruling. Unfortunately, his films Dostana, Housefull and Bol Bachchan have some of the most offensive portrayals.
Dostana was a strange film, released at the time when Dharma Productions was still run like Sharma Productions. The two leads pretend to be gay to rent out a place. But since it is a Bollywood film, they both fall for the same girl, who is excited because – Yay! Gay! Shopping, ribbons, and velvet cake!!
Dostana is a film that divided opinion. The horror of watching John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan pretend to be gay – the two couldn’t properly pretend to act in the first place! At the same time, a number of activists were in support of the film for bringing homosexuality into the mainstream. Karan Johar has also spoken about receiving ‘thousands of mails’ from viewers thanking him for the film, so I guess we’ll have to take his word for it.
When the announcement was made, Abhishek Bachchan didn’t say much. He tweeted a rainbow emoji as if to say, ab main kya bolun? Hain?
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7. The Absurd Trend of Crossdressing heroes
It is said that Bollywood is the most secular space in India. There is no discrimination based on your religion, background or sect. The same logic also applies to depicting offensive stereotypes. If Bollywood can shit over gay and lesbian people, should transgenders and crossdressers be left behind? Certainly not!
Enter Bollywood’s strange obsession with cross-dressing. It is used as a gimmick in a song, mostly for frivolous entertainment. I never understood the point of this cross-dressing.
I can understand vulgarity. Lyrics like ‘Pal pal na name Tinku Jiya, issak ka manjan ghisey hai piya’ aren’t written to invoke the Gulzar in you. I can also understand sexploitation films – where Raj Babbar attacks women, girls, retro Fiat cars. But what pray, is the logic of having heroes cross-dress and dance?
It is not titillating, not funny, not even vulgar. Every major Bollywood actor has done it at some point. Except Dharmendra, of course. He was too masculine, and didn’t have time for this kind of shit.
Rishi Kapoor in 'Student of the year'. Image source: hindustantimes.com
6. Rishi Kapoor in Student of The Year
Even if the argument in the previous entry is taken to be true, there is absolutely no justification for Rishi Kapoor’s character in Student of the Year. Rishi Kapoor plays the Principal of a school, and also happens to be gay.
As we know, being gay is the crux of your life. It is the reason the sun shines for you, it is the whole point of your existence. Which means that even if you are the Principal of a reputed school, you get to openly hit on the PT Sir. You can make completely inappropriate statements in front of your students, without the fear of going to jail. Because hey, even if the police get you, you can ‘hain hain hain’ your way out of it.
Gay people are essentially depicted in two ways in Bollywood – horny, or good-natured. Rishi Kapoor in Student of the Year is a good-natured gay person, literally putting the gay in ‘happy and gay’. So he dies alone in the end.
Homophobic Kantaben. Image source: bollyspice.com
5. Kantaben in Kal Ho Na Ho
I was in school when Kal Ho Na Ho released. Every time two guys shook or held hands while walking (which was quite a common sight), somebody or the other would say ‘Ooooh…Kantaben!’.
Kal Ho Na Ho was a film where Shah Rukh Khan plays Jesus Christ with a heart ailment. In an otherwise intense film, Kantaben was the humour track. In a household of urban, hip people – Kantaben was the housemaid whose homophobic reactions caused giggles to erupt.
Kantaben was the fifth most frequently mentioned character in our poll. But personally, I don’t think it was very offensive. I remember my family members watching the scene and giggling – it was perhaps the first time that homosexuality was shown – and enacted by two of the biggest stars of the industry.
Even though three films by Karan Johar find themselves in the list – I don’t blame the man too much. He began working in the 90s, and his depiction has gradually matured with films like Bombay Talkies and Kapoor & Sons. May be Karan Johar knew better. May be we needed to laugh at something before we got sensitised to it.
4. Gay guy in Pyar Kiya toh Darna Kya
Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya was a largely forgettable film that released in 1998. In the film, Bhai took off his shirt, rode his bike on to a stage, played an unplugged electric guitar, and took off his shirt. The rest is just details.
Apart from Bhai, one character seems to have survived the debris of the film. A character who has no name, no background – except for his sexual orientation. Bhai is playing cricket and his girlfriend is watching from the side-lines. Bhai’s team is losing, till they decide to employ the strategy of seducing the batsman.
A dainty guy is asked to bowl, and he begins to sway in the breeze. Bhai obviously knows that the bowler is capable of swinging it both ways, and ties the batsman’s shoes. Reverse swing saves the day for the team, and we move on to the next scene of a braindead movie.
Chutiya from 'Gunda'. Image source: upperstall.com
3. Shakti Kapoor as Chutiya in Gunda
Gunda is the Mughal-e-Azam of bad Indian films, and it is hardly shocking that it would find a place in any popular list. The Gunda Cinematic Universe (GCU) consists of one girl – Geeta – surrounded by Bulla, Lucky Chikna, Lambu Atta, Kala Shetty, and Ibu Hatela. You don’t have to be Nolan to guess that things aren’t going too well for her.
But the most unique character in the GCU is Chutiya (the ‘t’ is pronounced as ‘t’ in ‘tomato’ – Chutiya). In fact, Chutiya might be one of the most complex characters written for cinema. Chutiya puts the L,G,B,T, and Q in LGBTQ. Is he a man? Or a woman dressed as a man? Why does Chutiya have a small ponytail? How did the impact of Vitamin Sex affect him?
These are answers we will never know.
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2. Jay Mehta nahi, Gay Mehta
It’s strange that there are three films from the year 1998 in this list. Prem Aggan, made immensely popular by Biswa Kalyan Rath and Kannan Gill in Pretentious Movie Reviews – had the distinction of being the most frequently mentioned example in our poll.
Jay Mehta is a character in the film who is ridiculed for his appearance and a harmless inclination towards citrus-based perfumes. He did nobody any harm, he is not lecherous. And going by his wardrobe, he has a decent job or family business to take care of his lavish lifestyle.
And yet, Jay Mehta inadvertently found himself as the most-frequently mentioned LGBTQ character in Bollywood!
With 'Bombay Talkies' is Bollywood finally coming of age? Image source: timesofindia.com
1. The unknown LGBTQ clown in every film
Jay Mehta is the perfect example of the faceless LGBTQ character in Bollywood. Mostly essayed by junior artists, they were actors whose names are lost in lazy IMDB entries. You may recognise some of them from a similar role in another film.
The heroine’s friend with short hair, a member of the hero’s gang dressed in a pink shirt, men dressed as women, and men dressed as men. Swaying and sashaying so the hero looks masculine in comparison, and the heroine feminine. Riteish Deshmukh’s manager, and Tushar Kapoor’s landowner. Bollywood has mocked anything that is overtly heterosexual, using junior artists. We don’t know their names, these faceless victims of a sad industry constantly looking for cheap laughs.
Since most of the examples in this list are from previous decades, the future seems brighter. Films like Aligarh, Kapoor & Sons, and Margarita With a Straw have had the grace to end the dehumanising of LGBTQ characters.
Anyway Bollywood is now celebrating the verdict like they were constantly fighting for their rights. This is after milking the community for shitz and giggles. I think the community deserves an apology for propagating regressive ideas, playing to the galleries, and for the general dehumanising of characters.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101india.com
By Hriday Ranjan
Cover photo credit: santabanta.com