To Bollywood- We’re here, We’re Queer, And It’s Time You Noticed

With streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, there has emerged a wonderful uncensored space for Indians to be able to access content.

When one grows up in a society where Queer narratives are rare and educates themselves in a structure that is rigidly heterosexual (and patriarchal), the unlearning of homophobic upbringing that takes places happens mostly through Mass Media and Social Media, the new realities. I stand by this. And like me, there are plenty of people didn’t have a queer-friendly upbringing and are looking to unlearn homophobic values through tv shows, media, internet and pop-culture. Hence today, inclusivity in representation has become important. It cannot be token.

Before we go ahead, name Bollywood movies with non-stereotypical representations of-

Bisexuality?

Transgender narratives?

Asexuality?

Pangender narratives?

Apart from non-mainstream movies that are now finding a legitimate space as more evocative, there is little to no representation of Queer friendly narratives in Bollywood and TV. Heck, they couldn’t even get heterosexual narratives right. For them to adapt to Queer narratives would mean that Bollywood wouldn’t be able to recycle the Khans and Kapoors with the same spirit of toxic masculinity that they usually do.

With streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime, there has emerged a wonderful uncensored space for Indians to be able to access content. Personally, much of the media I consume today is that of the West, and so is the case for many millennials with the same capital of language, space and access. Much of these shows influence my understanding of feminism, sexuality and gender and how I choose to perceive it.

One Day At A Time is one of those shows that hits home. A story about a first generation immigrant family from Cuba residing in the US, the show intertwines the intersectionality of feminism, identity, diaspora and gender. ODAAT is one of the very first shows I came across that represented individuals with non-binary pronouns, and in this process, I became a little more woke.

The grandmother Lydia, a devout Catholic is able to negotiate a space where she doesn’t use religion as a weapon against her granddaughter’s sexuality, the mother Penelope who has trouble finding acceptance with her daughter’s coming out and finds it through a gradual process. The show does not preach, the show takes relatable experiences like having parents who’ve not been normalised to queer narratives and creates inspiring stories of acceptance and love. Like how it happens in real life, Penelope is not ideal, but the process by which parents like her embark on a journey of unlearning and learning is something that is certainly possible. It represents a way in which you and I, we can convey our experiences to a generation before us that didn’t have the information, space and voice that we did. 

Learning and unlearning. Shows like ODAAT and Brooklyn Nine-Nine help us identify the biases that have been so inherently ingrained and help us get over it. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I saw character Raymond Holt as the very first representation of a gay character that wasn’t stereotypically gay in a comedy. While Indian comedy shows use homosexuality and other orientations to create slapstick humour, the experience of watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine was surreal. Holt’s character looks at marginalisation due to black, queer identity and how the intersectionality impacts him. The experience of coming out for two queer characters- Rosa and Elena are also very important narratives. Why, because Rosa and Elena’s coming out stories are dealt with a level of sensitivity and a level of emotion that makes it all too real for one to not let out the waterworks.

To be able to narrate experiences of marginalisation in a comedy without trivializing the cause, the experience or the struggle is easier said than done. Don’t get me wrong. The west doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes, it really really messes up. (*Cough Big Bang Theory Cough*)

A character like his makes me wonder- how far along are we in making queer narratives that are doubly marginalised by class, caste, race and society heard? India has so many stories to tell. Stories of Queer love and relationships in rural India, stories of cruising and yet, the topic refuses to take off in mainstream media. While there are some brilliant Indian stories out there (The ‘Other’ Love Story– A personal favourite), it is time for Indian media to move on and provide the space to Queer narratives that looks beyond blatant eroticization or an extension of humour. Characters like Gutthi in the Kapil Sharma Show or ‘that gay best friend whose name we’ll never know’ are simply not acceptable. Hopefully, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga will begin the right conversation in the right direction.

It’s 2019, Bollywood. Get in line and get woke.

About the author

Stuti Nabazza

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