Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Homosexuality in 'Bombay Talkies' - 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Backward


[Image] Crazy Sam's Bloginess: Homosexuality in Bombay Talkies - 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Backward

Karan Johar’s segment in ‘Bombay Talkies’ - Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh, seemed to offer promising image overhaul on gays, trying to steer away from the conventional portrayal widely embraced by the storytellers of Bollywood. For once, the gay character is not flamboyant, limp-wristed or feminine. Rather, he is a confident young man, not ashamed of his sexuality. The opening scene shows him barging to the bedroom where his father (who had banished him from the house for being gay) is sleeping and pulling him out of the bed and screaming at him, “Main chhakaa nahi hoon! Main homosexual hoon! Naa chhakka hona galat hai, na homosexual!” (I am not an eunuch! I am a homosexual! Neither it is wrong to be an eunuch, nor to be a homosexual!) And later when he reveals himself to his female colleague that he is gay, she doesn't appear shocked - the reason being, “Gay ho, terrorist nahi.” (You are gay, not a terrorist.) The segment also features a lip-lock between two men, which is considered as a daring and progressive attempt.

[Image] Crazy Sam's Bloginess: Homosexuality in Bombay Talkies - 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Backward
A still from Bombay Talkies - Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh

It is for these illustrations the gay community and the Bollywood critics are applauding Karan for sensitively handling the angle of homosexuality. But if you analyze carefully, the story has far-reaching dangerous repercussions because it plays with the idea of trust. When it shows that the gay guy is having no boundaries by hitting on his female colleague’s husband, it sends out the message that one needs to be careful when befriending gays. And sadly, it tries to seed homophobia among the one group whom gay men have always felt comfortable opening up to – the women; it warns them gay men could be potential boyfriend/husband stealers and home-wreckers, so better stay away from them.

[Image] Crazy Sam's Bloginess: Homosexuality in Bombay Talkies - 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Backward
A still from Bombay Talkies - Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh

Bollywood has used homosexuality in innumerable ways – to add laughter, to induce shock value, to bring tragedy. But rarely has anyone attempted to empathize with them. What is this need to depend on showcasing us as a group who is defective or deviant in one form or the other? This is a group which is suffering not because they are defective, not because they are unnatural, not because they are abnormal; but only because the society is prejudiced due to the various misconceptions surrounding them - movies being a great vehicle for propagating such delusions. 

If a certain religion or community or caste is shown in a bad light in our movies, the respective groups are quick to demand the director to remove the disgracing dialogues or scenes. But in this case, the gay community themselves get divided in their opinions because some just see the “outer picture”; few care to analyze the long-run implications. The movie is a cleverly camouflaged attempt to seed homophobia. When I posted about Dostana years ago on the gross characterization of homosexuality, there were many who tried to make me see why it was the best thing that has happened for Indian gays. Funny, now I see many views on how Karan Johar has redeemed himself, while admitting Dostana indeed had badly depicted gays and how this was a wonderful change from him. Majority of the Bollywood outings, such as this one, brings out the slant that one is not entitled to lead a happy satisfied and committed life if he is gay, unlike how straights receive a happy ending for their love stories.

[Image] Crazy Sam's Bloginess: Homosexuality in Bombay Talkies - 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Backward
A still from Bombay Talkies - Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh

One can argue that Bollywood is in an experimental phase where straight relationships are also used for bringing out the various unconventional themes, so why not on homosexuality? Again, one needs to understand we are talking about a minority group who is struggling to find acceptance and at the receiving end of severe homophobia. Even Bollywood played safe while narrating love stories of heroes and heroines, where lip-locks were replaced by birds and flowers. It had invested sufficient period in exploring the plethoric emotions of love before plunging into the more sexually visible forms. We have Mughal-E-Azam, Devdas, Aradhna, Kagaz Ke Phool and so many countless movies immortalizing love, but what do we have for depicting homosexual relations apart from the scenes of sex and lust?

[Image] Crazy Sam's Bloginess: Homosexuality in Bombay Talkies - 2 Steps Forward, 1 Step Backward
A still from Bombay Talkies - Ajeeb Dastaan Hain Yeh

Karan Johar’s story is two steps forward in terms of how mainstream actors are now daring enough to take up homosexual roles and how censor board didn't feel the need to chop out the gay kiss, but it is a step backward in terms of bringing positive representation for a highly marginalized community.

For the uninitiated: 'Bombay Talkies' is a 2013 Indian anthology film consisting of four short films, directed by Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar. The film was released on May 3, 2013, coinciding with and celebrating the centenary year of Indian cinema.

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  • Shrenik May 7, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    I am so relieved to read this Harrish Iyer ! everyone around seems to have simply loved it, and i just couldnt figure out why! There is something terribly wrong with the story! Perhaps, the story and I, would have been ok, if randeep hooda could have taken the initiative and taken the love story forward. Here, everything seems too hushed up! there was really no chemistry between the two anyway and then the uber cool guy almost seems like a crook breaking into someone's house and hitting on his good friend's husband the forst day of his meeting without any good reason! Oh yeah! they just happen to like old songs! really? was that reason really good enough for a guy to become a home breaker! clearly portrays a gay character in bad light unfortunately again!

  • Anonymous May 8, 2013 at 2:20 AM

    Your critique that it seeds homophobia amongst women by positing the idea that homosexual men will steal their husbands rings true as long as Indian gay society looks away while all the married men have their cake and eat it too while leaving the women at home and in the dark. Maybe they should still worry. IF only the filmmaker had followed THAT thread to the end...

  • Anonymous May 19, 2013 at 10:37 AM

    Has Dev never seen another gay man before, in spite of being in the show biza? More than 70% of the listings in gay dating sites are from married men. But Dev seems to be living in some kind of limbo.

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