2016 is going to bid us goodbye very soon. Bollywood is in high spirits as it is capping off the year with a massive hit like “Dangal”, cocking a snook at demonetization imposed a few weeks back. If we keep the most successful and 100 crore entrants of 2016 at bay and take into account movies which succeeded in touching the untouched chords of the audience and breaking some widespread stereotypes, one film which surely finds its rightful place in the list is ‘Aligarh’. The film did not set the box-office on fire. Neither did it join any coveted club. But it made people talk about homosexuality in public domain once again after India’s top Court reinstated the ban on it in 2013, overturning the 2009 decision of Delhi High Court which decriminalised consensual homosexual sex in private.
Before and after the release of widely acclaimed ‘Aligarh’, people re-engaged in conversations about the LGBTQ community which has been forced to live in the closet even after 70 years of independence. Based on a true, heart-wrenching story, a professor’s fight to live with dignity and not feeling ashamed of his sexual inclination and what he engages in within the confines of his room was beautifully written and shown on celluloid by writer Apurva M. Asrani and filmmaker Hansal Mehta respectively.
Yes, it is true that the film did not change the status quo as far as laws governing LGBTQ people in India are concerned, but it did make some section of the society to become far more outspoken in their support for the suppressed community. And that, according to many, was the biggest victory of the film.
We know that while many nations across the globe are striking down bans on same-sex marriage, it may take India, the biggest and greatest democracy in the world, many more years to accept love beyond gender binaries, but Bollywood did perform some much-needed introspection in 2016. Contrary to popular beliefs and stereotypes, now the new gay man in Hindi films is not way too ‘effeminate’. His hands, as engrained in the public perception, are not lumpy and he does not swish around to get anybody’s attention anymore. No one is mocking his mannerisms at workplace and in public. He does not dress up and walk in a manner which most homophobic people find obnoxious and frown upon, as if thinking that a minor community will vitiate the entire humanity on Earth. In fact, the new gay guy in Bollywood is just like any one of us, competent enough to lead and live his life the way he wants to. In ‘Aligarh’, he is a professor at the very prestigious Aligarh Muslim University. Without feeling a pariah, he can fit in as comfortably in a family or group as Fawad Khan did in ‘Kapoor & Sons’. In the very beautiful film ‘Dear Dad’, he is courageous enough to come out to his son on a road trip.
This year has indeed seen a positive change in the depiction of LGBTQ characters in films. So before the year wraps us, let us have a look at some most notable Hindi films which saw homosexuals and homosexuality in a new light in 2016.
As already mentioned, “Aligarh” is a film which will claim the first spot if a list of ‘Best Films on the Depiction of Homosexuality in Hindi Films’ is ever made. Every scene, every shot and every frame of the film engage and move you so much that you cannot afford to keep your eyes off the screen. Manoj Bajpayee so convincingly brings forth the pain and pang of a professor thrown out of his university on the basis of his sexual orientation that, after a few minutes into the film, you too start feeling the anguish of his grief risen out of society’s vexatious attitude. Kudos to the writer that he did not stick to the clichéd depiction of gays in popular media and portrayed his protagonist as normal and natural. Manoj Bajpayee is one of the finest actors of Bollywood and his performance in the film proved the same all over again.
When the trailer of “Kapoor & Sons” came out in the beginning of the year and the audience was introduced to a dysfunctional family of Kapoors, most of the girls (and some boys too) went weak in the knees after getting a glimpse of the epitome of handsomeness Fawad Khan on screen. Everyone had assumed that it was going to be a triangle among the characters of Alia Bhatt, Sidharth Malhotra and Fawad Khan. But no one would have ever thought that Fawad actually had a man in his life instead of a woman. This could happen because there was not a single stereotype of homosexuality attached to his character, because the writer did not take the conventional route of depicting a gay man and hence reinforce the idea of homosexuality as implied and demonstrated in every mainstream representation. He showed his character like anyone else. Director Shakun Batra garnered a lot of praise for the characterization.
It must have been very difficult for a father to tell his son about his sexuality. To break the news, he embarks on an impromptu road trip to the boarding school of his teenage son. But the secret comes tumbling out rather abruptly for the son as he overhears his closeted dad revealing his sexuality to his ill grandfather who can neither move nor talk. Though the film ends on a happy note with the son accepting his father the way he is, “Dear Dad” was praised for touching on the theme of alternative sexuality in an intelligent way. The coming of age story did not show its gay protagonist as a man roaming around to attain sexual encounters. Arvind Swamy plays the character with dignity. The makers did not force him to exhibit any of the personality trait Bollywood has been accused of associating with gays. Rather he was shown as a suave and dignified man.
The film was not centred around the topic of alternative sexuality. Rather it was all about brawn and beating of goons. But, taking everyone by surprise, Akshay Kumar did a cameo in it wherein he played a gay man. Though his character was not totally clean of stereotypes, it did not smack of caricaturish treatment from any angle.
As a society, we need a massive overhaul. Only then we will be able to dismiss the media image of LGBTQ people and look at issues like sexuality with a modern viewpoint. It is a welcome change that at least the biggest film producing industry on the globe has started seeing the LGBTQ community with a new lens. They say that cinema is a mirror of society. If that is true, then this mirror has now started showing a somewhat clear picture. But a long path is yet to be trodden.