For years, Indian cinema has avoided the subject of homosexuality and transgender people in films. For the most part, he was shown in the guise of comic relief. It’s 2022 and the Indian film industry still hasn’t given credence to homosexuality in its portrayal, especially in the commercial space.
June is celebrated as Pride Month with great pomp and dignity across the world. This is when members of the LGBTQ community and their allies come together and organize events to raise awareness of the idea of equal rights and opportunities for their community.
Over the years, the portrayal of sexual minorities in Indian cinema has remained sloppy and understated, with the depiction of the third gender being violently exaggerated in appearances, such as child traffickers, brothel owners, or pimps.
However, Shilpa, played by Vijay Sethupati in the 2019 Tamil anthology ‘Super Deluxe’, showed the vulnerable side of trans communities. The film is perhaps one of the most heartfelt portrayals audiences have witnessed in current times. In the film, Shilpa faces rejection from society and harassment from the police when she goes to file a missing report for her son Rasakutty. Shilpa’s helplessness combined with the slow acceptance of his son and wife makes for a thought-provoking watch, ultimately getting audiences to sympathize with the character.
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Just like trans characters, gays and lesbians also didn’t have much chance of being accurately portrayed in cinema because the Indian societal script was not gay-friendly for a very long time. Although a few filmmakers have dared to introduce concepts surrounding same-sex relationships, it wasn’t until 1996 when filmmaker Deepa Mehta made “Fire,” the story of a same-sex relationship between two women from the same household. The film received bitter and aggressive protests across the country, before ultimately being banned.
It took several years for films like ‘My Brother Nikhil’ (2005), followed by ‘Margarita with a Straw’ and ‘Aligarh’ in 2015, ‘Dear Dad’, ‘Kapoor & Sons’ and ‘Loev’, all in 2016, to come out. The films received positive reviews from critics for their treatment of subject matter and the sensitivity with which the characters were written.
In 2018, the Supreme Court of India issued a landmark judgment, overturning the draconian Section 377 which decriminalizes homosexuality. This judgment was welcomed by a large part of society and people were able to speak openly about their sexual orientation without fear of discrimination. But this change was limited to urban society and did not change much for the sexual minorities of the interiors.
However, the community still faces discrimination, violence, hostility, intimidation and harassment, even from her family. ‘Shub Mangala Jayda Savdhan’ and ‘Baadhai Do’ are good examples where the protagonist feels insecure and hesitant to express their sexual orientation.
Unlike other art forms, cinema has the power to become a catalyst for creating and bringing about social change. The character of Juhi Chawla in the movie “My Brother Nikhil”, who plays the role of an older sister of Sanjay Suri, understands that being gay is not a disease and supports him in his difficult times. This film conveys the message that regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, accepting and supporting that fact can improve the quality of their life.
Cinema, as they say, is a mirror of society and is certainly the most appropriate platform to bring social inclusion and acceptance to the LGBTQ population – with more and more films embracing gay characters. But staging must be done with care, sensitivity, compassion and understanding towards the community.
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Having a gay or bisexual character in a film of illicit comedy or meaningless fun must stop and in its place a depiction of their normal life with abnormal challenges must be portrayed. Ayushman Khurana and Vani Kapoor’s starring film ‘Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui’ did have some offensive scenes and dialogue regarding trans people, the scene between Vani and her father was beautifully and empathetically produced, where the gender reassignment doesn’t is not denounced but accepted without reservation.
Cinema and the media play an important role in the formation of stereotypes. A well-made, realistic, and unmistakable film around a queer theme can in turn make people think about their thoughts on community. This is best represented in ‘Kapoor & Sons’, where Fawad Khan’s mother disowns him but gradually realizes his feelings and accepts his sexual identity.
In today’s era, the depiction of heterosexual emotions and sexuality is widely welcomed by audiences. Therefore, the emotional complexities of other genders, their life struggles and challenges should also be presented in a similar way that evokes empathy and awareness among people.
‘Angry Indian Goddesses’, ‘Cobalt Blue’, the short story ‘Geeli Pucchi’ from ‘Ajeeb Daastaans’ and ‘Baai’ from the anthology ‘Modern Love Mumbai’ sublimely show the development of homosexual desires. The premise of ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ and ‘Baai’ deals with the marriage of a same-sex couple with the support of family and friends.
Similarly, in ‘Ajeeb Dasstaan’ short story ‘Geeli Pucchi’, the two female leads develop a bond where one hesitates to accept, while the other thinks acknowledging is the only way to resolve the inner conflict.
Over the past few decades, Indian cinema has successfully portrayed sexual minorities on the big screen, albeit in a sparse way.
The need of the hour is for queer-themed films made in a more sensible way with subtle and sensitive characterization. It could help to really bring out the change in society towards this vibrant and amazing community.
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