The Madhuri Dixit-led series, ‘The Fame game’ has been topping the charts on Netflix, so I assume that everyone is familiar with the general crux of the storyline. But in case you are like me (allowing instant hits and chart-toppers to sit on the back burner for months or even years until no one is talking about it so you can enjoy it in peace), let me fill you in. The series follows Anamika Anand – a Bollywood star in her prime despite being in the industry for 20 years (how refreshing!), who is but driven by the more humane parts of her “perfect life”. Anamika disappears, and what ensues is the search for her. The show is interspersed with flashbacks going back to events from 6 months ago before the disappearance. Now, whether the show lives up to the hype or not is a decision I would leave you to make.
While LGBTQIA+ representation in mainstream shows and movies is an issue that is far from being resolved, it has been heartening to see more queer characters on screen. This show, for that matter, has three. For me, how they chose to represent each of them was interesting.
The first is Billy, who plays the role of Anamika’s stylist. Now, save for one line that maybe hints at sexuality, there is no real discussion about his queerness. His sexuality is inconsequential to the plotline and therefore does not warrant any screentime, which to be honest, is once again, what I would consider a refreshing change of pace. It is obvious from the get-go that Billy is gay, but his role is of being a stylist, a friend, and confidant to Anamika, up until the point he betrays that trust. At that moment, he is just like any opportunistic person in Bollywood trying to make some money. And, maybe one could argue that Billy’s character falls too close to the old Sissy villain trope, but I would disagree. Billy is by no measure showcased as effeminate or flamboyant, which could have been done quite easily since he is a stylist and we have seen quite a few fashionable flamboyant gay stylists in our lifetimes. I would also not call him the villain of the show; he is simply someone who made a wrong, selfish move. His guilt over it and his genuine affection for Anamika are evident in how he sets on the journey to find her. In fact, the ease with which his death is forgotten makes you wonder if he was simply just trying to make some bucks in a world he knew wouldn’t have much to fall back on. And that, to me, is not evil – simply human.
Playing a more critical role in the show is the character of Shobha Trivedi (Rajshri Deshpande), the ACP in charge of finding Anamika. Shobha is a lesbian, and this is a fact that is addressed in a few scenes. By virtue of being a woman in the force, she deals with her fair share of casual sexism, right from being asked if she can handle such a high-profile case when she has family issues. However, Shobha is a no-nonsense woman and stands her ground and reminds her surperiors that her alternative, Saxena, has two kids and hence, probably double the responsibility. However, the need to continue to prove herself runs throughout the course of the show. As Shobha tries to solve the case, she also deals with some personal crises. Her partner, Sheila, has a son. Sheila’s ex-husband, who Shobha points out is simply slighted by the fact that he was left for a woman, decides to fight her for custody. The mediator advises them to settle the case out of court because “judges are harsh about same-sex parenting”.
Shobha is not a woman who cares about putting up pretenses. This is made clear when she questions a suspect in the case who attempts to blackmail her using her identity. Shobha, who remains unfazed, announces that the matters of her personal life are neither juicy nor secret.
In fact, her comfort with her identity plays an integral role in pushing the storyline. At a certain moment of the investigation, it becomes clear to Shobha that Anamika’s son Avinash (Lakshvir Singh Saran) knows something that could help solve the case. “It is tough to stand alone and speak your truth, but I have never lied to anyone,” she says. This is what drives Avi to speak up, which is important in more ways than one.
Avi, from the get-go, is portrayed as someone who is moody and struggling with life. Intuitively, it seems from the outset that he’s struggling with his sexuality. It is not so much what is said or done, but somehow the presence of Avi’s childhood best friend Samar, Avi’s attempt at suicide which Anamika rightfully reads as a cry for help gives to the sense of his struggle and even his visit to the dance bar seems indicative of this. Avi’s plotline follows a very different thread. Here is a boy simply struggling to not just come out, but accept his identity himself. In an effort to maybe convince himself that he is not gay, he goes to a dance bar. It is very obvious that he is not comfortable, but even as he says he doesn’t “need to prove anything” to the woman who dances for him, we know he is lying. His mother – who learns of his whereabouts – doesn’t really chastise him for going to a dance bar, but rather for not having the decency of showing the woman enough respect to even ask her name (I won’t lie, I especially loved the scene).
Ultimately, he comes out. Well, not entirely on his own. His mother, after a difficult night, asks him how he feels and responds, “I just feel ashamed”. We know instantly that he is not simply talking about the events. “Life becomes difficult when we start lying to ourselves. How long will you hide your feelings?” asks Anamika. Avi’s scared to confess. He cries as he nods and goes on to apologize. What follows in a coming-out story we all hope becomes the norm. Anamika hugs him and assures him. “You are my everything. I love you. Nothing can change that. And you have nothing to be ashamed of. Never think of yourself as alone. I am with you. Forever,” she says.
She even tries to get Avi the help he needs and goes to a therapist with him. Once again, it is Anamika who has to let the therapist know that Avi is gay. But Avi remains far from being ready to accept the truth. His fear that his sexuality will become all that people see about him and his fear of disappointing his loved ones keeps him from being honest, not just with the world, but with himself. Even when Avi’s best friend, Samar, opens up about his feelings, Avi is so caught up in his fear that he can’t reciprocate. Once again, it is Anamika who offers him the courage he needs. People judge, she agrees, but true love doesn’t come again. “You are the best part of me,” he confesses finally to Samar.
Unlike Anamika, Avi’s father, Nikhil More (Sanjay Kapoor) does not really find out about his son’s sexuality until he finds Avi and Samar in bed together. Nikhil reacts by physically assaulting Samar. I don’t think the reaction was entirely homophobic. Nikhil is a controlling man who has been at odds with Avi from the start. The tension was simply intensified by an unrelated secret that was revealed to Nikhil, just moments before he catches them together. Avi and Samar were simply easy targets to vent his frustration at. Obviously, his actions are wrong, but the fact that he decides to not share the truth with Avi and continue to support him can be considered evidence of the fact that it was maybe a case of bad timing.
Whether this is one of the better cases of queer representation… is up for review. I won’t claim that this one is the best yet. The show seems to finally bring to the table something many have craved to see for years: queer characters whose queerness is only one aspect of them. None of them are characters driven by their sexuality. Even though Avi’s queerness is an integral aspect of the plotline, Avi’s character is more than that. I also appreciate having queer characters who have reached different levels of comfort with their sexuality just as they are in different stages of their lives. Their problems are different, and so are their needs, and so are their stories. Let’s hope they keep this up should there be a second season.