LGBT characters have never existed in Bollywood films throughout their long history, with a few extremely rare exceptions. The few times they did appear, they were shown in the most homophobic way possible—either as the punchline for jokes or, worse, as these predatory individuals attempting to “convert” straight men.
We’ll examine the most notable instances of problematic LGBT depiction and explain why it’s time we began fixing them.
When we talk about the LGBTQ community, let’s try to be as clear as possible about who we mean
The LGBTQIA+ group includes people who identify as homosexuals as well as those with other sexual orientations. On the internet, several definitions attempt to condense it and convey its essence. In a broad sense, LGBTQIA+ refers to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or those who are unsure of their gender identity or sexual orientation), intersex, and asexual (or those who support them).
This acronym encompasses a wide range of sexualities. The LGBTQIA+ population has found it challenging to come out due to the concern of changing society’s homogeneity and gender-based social norms.
Each year, millions of Indians visit the theatres to witness expertly made films. The impression that these films have on people lingers with them for a very long time and has the power to gently alter their perspective without the person even being aware of it.
One of the cherished movies that most of us have happy recollections of watching is “Kal Ho Naa Ho.” It is a favorite feel-good film for many. But after Kanta Ben’s overt displeasure at the mere suggestion that Saif Ali Khan’s character might be gay, now we can finally understand exactly how subtly homophobic the movie was. Bollywood managed to be homophobic even in a feel-good film devoid of LGBT characters.
Abhishek Bachchan was one of the first famous people to publicly welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal Section 377, as we have all heard. Unfortunately, his earlier movies like “Dostana” and “Housefull” include incredibly unpleasant depictions of the homosexual population.
“Dostana,” is widely regarded as the first mainstream Bollywood film to present homosexuality in a largely favorable context. Even with its best intentions, the movie’s representation of LGBT people raises a lot of issues. For instance, Abhishek Bachchan’s portrayal of Sam, a straight man who pretended to be gay, went about as poorly as you’d anticipate it to go, playing up all of the prejudices that straight men frequently hold about LGBT people. John Abraham also portrayed his role, as a second straight man who pretended to be gay, as though he were utterly asexual. Boman Irani’s representation of an actual gay man reduced his persona to the most overt and insulting homophobic tropes in this film.
Another well-known film with characters that cross-dressed for no apparent reason was “Humshakals.”
Even when the LGBT population is not portrayed in a stereotyped way, it hardly ever receives any substantial attention beyond being used as a potential plot twist or joke. Consider “Kapoor & Sons,” one of the rare prominent Bollywood films with a gay lead character starring Fawad Khan. The only use of his character’s sexuality was as a minor plot twist to heighten the suspense and drama.
This is not to imply that the LGBT community hasn’t received any favorable depiction in films. A lesbian pair discovering their sexuality in rural India was the subject of Deepa Mehta’s excellent portrayal of homosexuality in the film “Fire.”
The devastating stigma that Section 377 was fostering towards LGBT people was depicted in detail in Hansal Mehta’s “Aligarh” (which had a masterful performance by Manoj Bajpayee), while “Margarita with a Straw” acknowledged bisexuality for the first time.
Jitendra Kumar and Ayushmann Khurrana make an effort to confront the pervasive homophobia and stigma in Indian families in Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan. This film used light humor while addressing all the serious issues surrounding homophobia. Without diluting the film’s core message or character, the ideal number of jokes made it enjoyable to watch.
Although they may be excellent, some indie films have a sadly small positive influence. While these films have made an effort to highlight some of the less well-known facets of the LGBTQIA+ community, Bollywood still has a long way to go. We need to see more accurate depictions of bisexuals and, particularly, transgender men and women in mainstream movies. We also need to see more positive portrayals of gay and lesbian characters.
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