Here’s a look at what Bollywood threw up in terms of LGBT on-screen representation the past year. Yes, there were the usual homophobic gay “jokes” (Golmaal 3, Housefull; thanks for starting the trend Mr. Johar) and some regressive portrayals (Anjaana Anjaani), but let’s not give them more airing. On the other hand, the breadth and nuance of LGBT characters in other films was surprising over a single year, given the rarity of affirming, well-developed LGBT content in Indian cinema. I’m sure I may have missed some, so feel free to add others!
[Possible spoilers ahead]
Sandhya Mridhul in “Hum Tum Aur Ghost”
I’m surprised that not much has been said about this character, because it may be hands-down one of the best portrayals of a lesbian in a Bollywood film. Sandhya Mridhul plays Mini, the lead protagonist Armaan’s (Arshad Warsi) best friend. She is accepted as a lesbian and there is no hoo-ha around it—it’s not played for laughs or cheap thrills or to create sexual tension. It’s just who she is. Armaan and Mini are very close (the character has a substantial supporting role), and they even go check out girls together! When Dia Mirza’s character (Armaan’s romantic interest) becomes jealous of their friendship, Mini comes out to her and tells her there’s nothing to worry about because she’s gay.
Omar Khan, Prashant Chawla (and some extras) in “Jhootha Hi Sahi”
A romantic comedy where the “gang” includes not one, but two out gay men, both of whom are accepted and loved by the group and neither is a stereotype (though one comes somewhat close)! Kudos to Abbas and Pakhi Tyrewalla for their inclusive script, and well rounded gay characters with a whole lot more to them than just being “the gay guys”. Amit grew up knowing he is gay and ran away from home to avoid marital pressures. He was welcomed into the John Abraham character’s group, and loved and accepted by everyone for who he is-and as the adorable weird guy who makes gross-out statements. He has a crush on the group’s “hottie” Uday, who is also openly gay and owns a gay club. Uday is a player and parties a lot, but this isn’t reduced to “gay promiscuity” and rather he is portrayed the way a straight guy with lots of girlfriends would—studly and enviable (this is probably a breakthrough representation of gay sexuality in Bollywood). He brings his “Boyfriend of the Week” to the group’s regular dinners, and will only settle with the guy his best gal pal approves of.
Vinay Apte (and extra) in “Rajneeti”
Vinay Apte plays a babu-style politician who ends up being blackmailed because he is gay. The film shows him receiving a massage from his hunky boyfriend, and then later lying in bed with him. The character and his lover meet a grisly fate in the film, but so does almost everyone else. What was significant here was that neither of the gay men was depicted stereotypically, audience sympathies were made to align with Apte’s character, and that these were brash men in India’s rural heartland. That gay characters entered the frame at all in this setting is worth taking note of.
Aman Varma and Murli Sharma in “Tees Maar Khan”
This was a terrible, offensive film on many counts but was a mixed bag in terms of LGBT representation. Aman Varma and Murli Sharma play cops that are hunting down Khan (Akshay Kumar). The two seem to be stock comedy police officer characters; except that later in the film it is revealed that the two are gay. Towards the end, the two men exchange rings- a suggestion at marriage or long term commitment. This is good representation in a Bollywood genre that has made it the norm to caricature gay people and make them the butt of jokes. Unfortunately, this film did indulge in some homophobic pandering and “jokes”, including some involving a trio of exaggeratedly effeminate men who do Katrina Kaif’s make-up (of course they do!) and who she calls “ladies”.
Kapil Sharma and Yuvraaj Parashar in “Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyu”
I won’t say much about how Bollywood’s Big Gay Answer to Brokeback Mountain or whatever was one of the most ridiculous and badly made films of the year, except that this film’s unintentional humor may make it a camp classic in the future. It’s kind of sad that the people behind this film had good intentions and seem to have genuinely believed that they were making a serious film. Anyway, we can heave a sigh of relief that apart from some obstacles in the way of the release and protesting outside the actor’s home and some obscure threats to the filmmakers, no cinemas were attacked and nobody rioted in the streets. We’ve come a long way since 1996. The film does feature the male protagonists in a relationship, and kissing and having sex- which gives it the paradoxical, only-possible-in-Bollywood, distinction of being both the silliest and the most ground breaking gay film of the year.