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What You Might Not Have Noticed About Bromance In Bollywood

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By Rohini Banerjee for Cake:

Male friendships in Bollywood, from the 60s and 70s itself, have been increasingly not-very platonic. Whether it be the cult ‘dosti’ between Jai and Veeru in “Sholay,” or the yaarana between Bishan and Kishan in “Yaarana,” or “Anand” (where the chemistry between Amitabh Bachhan and Rajesh Khanna’s characters was so palpable that it was almost a romance) — vintage Bollywood had queer subtext in abundance.

However, this queer subtext became more overtly recognizable with 2003’s “Kal Ho Naa Ho” — which had a running trope where its two male protagonists were constantly caught in ‘compromising’ positions, and were mistaken as queer. Though the film’s attitude to queerness was problematic, it did somewhat spell out the fact that such close bonds between male friends can actually imply homoeroticism.

 

Since then, many not-quite-platonic ‘bromances’ (a term used for very close friendships between men) have been visible in several ‘male buddy films’ like “Dil Chahta Hai,” “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara,” “Kai Po Che,” and the “Munnabhai” series — where male friends share way too much chemistry and sexual tension; or films like “Student of The Year” — where the story arc between the two male leads uncannily mimics that of a traditional Bollywood heterosexual romance.

But despite all of these hints and subtexts, there’s always some kind of plot device thrown in to re-establish their heterosexuality, and to restore the (straight) status quo.

The ‘Bromance’ Off-Screen

“I don’t distinguish between men and women in terms of anatomy,” said John Abraham in a recent interview, while heavily implying that he has an aesthetic appreciation of both sexes (and a possibly fluid sexuality?). The interview was to promote his latest film, “Dishoom” — a male buddy comedy (also starring Varun Dhawan), which from its very trailer, has been full of homoerotic subtext (i.e, full of hints of possible sexual or romantic tension between two men, or hints that they aren’t entirely entirely heterosexual).

This isn’t the first time John Abraham has been associated with queerness on-screen. He played a character pretending to be gay and shared a kiss with another man in 2008’s “Dostana” — a film that was actually pretty offensive to the gay community, because it turned homosexuality into a mere gag.

Abraham seems to revel in all the queer attention, but what’s interesting, is that it’s not just him. Quite a few actors, and especially, male actors have started to play up bromances which are overtly homoerotic. These sexually-ambiguous bromances aren’t just onscreen though, and have been seen time and again offscreen as well.

“What’s the weirdest rumour about you that is actually true?” asked Karan Johar to Ranveer Singh, during one of the often-controversial ‘rapid fire rounds’ of his hit talk show, “Koffee With Karan” (then in it’s fourth season). Singh, with a knowing smirk on his face responded — “that I’m involved with Arjun Kapoor.”

The bromance between actors Ranveer Singh and Arjun Kapoor — which started in late 2013 when they starred in “Gunday” together — is pretty much legendary by now. From parties and interviews and award shows — in which the two hug and show physical affection in ways that border on (and often are) homoerotic — to open declarations of love on social media, these two men exhibit a relationship which goes way beyond the strictly heterosexual. In fact, all this had scandalized even Karan Johar enough to exclaim, “Your metrosexuality is making me uncomfortable.” In an earlier season of the same show Ranbir Kapoor and Imran Khan also shared one of these openly not-so-platonic ‘bromances’ — to the extent that they even kissed each other.

During the promotions of “Student of The Year” — another film with two male leads sharing a close bond — Siddharth Malhotra and Varun Dhawan had as much chemistry offscreen as they had in the film. They often joked about them having a ‘relationship,’ and shared a little too much physical closeness for it to be entirely platonic. So what do these homoerotically coded relationships between male actors really imply?

In India, close male friendships like these are actually not so uncommon. You often see men holding hands on the streets, or casually touching each other — so, to have the same mirrored in our popular culture shouldn’t be a surprise. It’s interesting to note how our culture encourages this kind of homoeroticism, and doesn’t a bat an eyelid when they see two male ‘friends’ sharing such intimacy — while Section 377 still causes actual same-sex relationships to be taboo.

Male Representation In Bollywood: From ‘Angry Young Men’ To Sensitive Lovers

In the ’60s and ’70s, there was a machismo associated with the male bollywood hero – he was hypermasculine, righteous, and the metaphorical knight-in-shining armour. So, male sexuality was supposed to be associated with virility and strength. But, recent films have been slowly but surely reworking that intensely ‘macho’ image. We see a different kind of underdog hero now – whether it be Varun Dhawan’s character in “Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhaniya” crying during a DDLJ scene, or Ranbir Kapoor’s character in “Wake Up Sid,” who is somewhat clueless and unassertive. Yes, men are still expected to have bodies that feed a certain idea of masculinity, but their portrayal in cinema is slowly evolving from traditional patriarchal understandings of maleness.

The buddy films, and close male bonding off-screen is one of the biggest markers of this evolution. It’s an indication that Bollywood is now more comfortable with men showing homoerotic affection. Even when that is eventually made heterosexual, it’s still a step forward for a culture that is starting to recognize and give visibility to a male bonding of a different kind. We’ve had two refreshingly progressive depictions of queer men in Hindi cinema this year – in “Aligarh” and “Kapoor and Sons,” and the latter film even gained commercial success. Even though conversations surrounding queerness in mainstream Indian popular culture still have a long way to go before it matures, recognizing the homoerotic subtext in these male relationships (and accepting them) is an important start.

This article was originally published here on Cake.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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