As the world celebrates Pride Month, it seems like a good time to trace the evolution of LGBTQ representation in Bollywood.
From Deepa Mehta’s Fire to Shakun Batra’s Kapoor and sons, we have seen a massive change in how Bollywood treats its LGBTQ characters. But it goes without saying- the community deserves more. For a very long time, gay characters have been treated in the same exhausting way by the film industry. They are used as mere caricatures and only exist to garner a few chuckles.
Suresh Menon’s character in Partner, Boman Irani’s character in Dostana, Rishi Kapoor’s character in Student of the year have one thing in common- they’re all shown as an overtly sexualized person with idiosyncratic manners. But let us give the credit where it’s due. In the past few years, we have seen path-breaking works like Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh or Onir’s I am (Omar). It seems that the accurate representation of LGBTQ has been restricted to “indie” movies only. Mainstream Bollywood has a lot to catch up on.
The dearth of movies where LGBTQ people are not merely depicted for comic relief and instead shown as accepted members of the society is astounding. Movies are a major medium of communication and more often than not, help in normalizing stereotypes. In a country where regressive laws like Section 377 exist, Bollywood is not helping in dismissing the misconceptions surrounding LGBTQ but rather spreading them. What the present movie makers need to understand is that their audience has become smarter and dare I say, more accepting than before. They can no longer use highly problematic routes for the portrayal of the community and get away with it. They cannot show men (often the lead actor) in women’s clothes speaking in an effeminate voice to create laughter, without facing a backlash.
Hollywood on the other hand, has arguably moved on; with box office successes like Call Me by Your Name directed by Luca Guadagnino and Love, Simon directed by Greg Berlanti, the former getting nominated for the Academy Awards as well. Call me by your name, a coming of age movie dealt with a same-sex relationship, conveying the universality of a human story. And let’s not forget 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture, Moonlight.
Indian filmmakers need to be more sensitive, empathetic and in touch with the struggles faced by the LGBTQ community. Times are changing, so should Bollywood.