Bollywood’s attempt at normalizing homosexuality could is doing more harm
Following the abrogation of Article 377 in 2018, a move that liberated many closeted sexual minorities, the Indian film industry encashed the opportunity by bringing out movies depicting homosexual or transsexual relationships. Most of those films aim at normalising the hitherto-taboo subject and have gone on to create movies that fall under the genre of comedy. The filmmakers probably think that since laughter is the best medicine, a comic take on a subject that is still abhorred in Indian society could help normalise it. But several members of the LGBTQ community themselves say that in their attempt at comedy, these movies end up being offensive.
“Through movies like these, homosexual people are potrayed as comical or joyful, too loud or wearing tacky clothes. In reality, we are no different from people who aren’t from the community,” says Shimanta Barua, who identifies as a pansexual.
The representation of the sub-community of transgender people is also flawed, feels Shimanta. He said: “There are movies that stereotype trans people as liars or deceivers, which I think is the worst possible way to portray these people.” To give an example of this, in the movie ‘Gangubai Kathiawadi’, the lead actress is shown to be contesting elections with a transgender woman who is characterised as woman with ill traits. A woman, who only has ulterior motives behind winning the elections, who doesn’t care about the welfare of the people who she seeks votes from.
Then there comes the question of misrepresentation. There has always been a long-standing debate about how filmmakers hire actors who don’t consider themselves a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. These actors play the role of transgenders. The complaint that reverberates from the members of the community is that despite the existence of actors who are transgenders, directors only go for someone who can play the role adequately. Irfan Khan (name changed), an active member of the community, said: “The movie ‘Chandigarh Kare Aashqui’ portrays a transgender woman, but in reality it was a misrepresentation. Vani Kapoor, the actress who played the role, is a cis gendered heterosexual female. If the creators really wanted to put forth the idea of transgender relationships, they could have easily found a trans woman from the community itself. This can be misleading as it is not true representation.”
On one hand there are movies like ‘Badhai Do’, ‘Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhan’ etc. which gain a lot of traction mainly due to the acclaimed cast actors, there are many deserving movies on the subject that get pushed under the carpet. One possible reason for movies like ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ or ‘Margarita With A Straw’ don’t make the cut is because these fall under the genre of drama and are often more impactful. The rigidly established unacceptance of the idea of homosexuality has made it difficult for serious cinema like these to gain traction.
While many complain about the misrepresentation of the LGBTQIA+ community, there are people from outside and within the community who think that however flawed the portrayal might be, it is the first step to normalize the idea in a traditionalist society. Many think that filmmakers and actors are at least bold enough to bring the issues of the community out on the big screens.