Is Bollywood Whitewashing The Sins Of Its Past?

The new soup advertisement featuring Karan Johar is making waves all around and for good reasons. The advertisement has touched every right point. Neither is it intensely preaching, nor it is offensive towards the sexual minorities. Gauri Shinde, the maker of the advertisement, has made sure to make it look like a normal relationship that is often viewed as abnormal as per “society”. The advertisement has made the entry of discussion about LGBTQ into every household, and that is the biggest takeaway.

Many Bollywood movies are made on same-sex relationships, but they never get commercial success or become mainstream—rather most of them become controversial. When Meera Nair made Fire, all hell broke loose. I remember that as a child, to even to talk about it was a taboo. Then came movies like My Brother Nikhil, which touched upon the issue of same-sex relationships and AIDS. The movie was a masterpiece in handling both the issues with utmost care. But it was never considered a mainstream movie for the reason that it was not a big-budget movie with big stars.

Bollywood has lately come out with the topic of LGBTQ in various forms. Mainstream commercial movies like Kapoor & Sons and Ek Ladki ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga are a few of them which have touched the issue of same-sex relationship maturely, and the forthcoming films, Shubh Mangal Jyada Savdhan and Sheer Qorma also look promising. This is not only refreshing but also surprising given how Bollywood dealt with the issue of a same-sex relationship in the past. Considering this industry has made utterly disgusting movies like Girlfriend, which was based on a lesbian relationship.

Bollywood has come a long way from the dark days. This is Bollywood redeeming itself from the sin it committed against the LGBTQ community. Bollywood has always stereotyped gay and transgender characters and used them for comic relief in movies. The typical hand gestures and characters behaving like nymphomaniacs were common scenes and so was stereotyping gay people with odd voices, snapping of fingers and using phrases such as “whatever” every time. We don’t do that in that frequency. Remember the scene from Golmaal 2 where Tushar Kapoor is trying to catch Shreyas Talpade, and a gay guy in pink jeans and T-shirt is molesting Talpade? That scene was put in by Rohit Shetty for comic relief, but it was gross. Bollywood is full of movies with such distasteful scenes.

Today, Karan Johar is in the process of becoming a voice of LGBTQ in India, but this is the same filmmaker who made Dostana where a same-sex relationship is ridiculed and made fun of. And gay characters are mocked upon, especially the character of Boman Irani who appeared for a short time to be ridiculed for comic relief. In Kal Ho Na Ho, Karan Johar again made fun of same-sex relationship. Remember the “Kanta Ben” scene where the house help misunderstands the relationship between Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan? Here:

Hollywood has a long list of movies which made people understand the pain of this community. Bollywood, on the other hand, has damaged the community by wrongly portraying them and using words like dheela, meetha, and all that crap. We can never imagine Bollywood making a movie like Boys Don’t Cry. We don’t expect it, but at least give the community a proper representation! If you cannot represent the community with all care and caution, then please don’t ridicule them.

Image result for jared leto transgender
Jared Leto in a still from Dallas Buyers Club

Jared Leto was cast in Dallas Buyers Club as a transgender—a man portraying the role of a transgender woman. When it comes to India, one of the most powerful and popular roles of a transgender character in the history of the Indian entertainment industry went to a girl. This is about Kubra Sait playing the character of Cukoo in Scared Games. They could have cast a transgender person or at least a male actor to make it look more authentic, but Bollywood being Bollywood just chickened out.

The sinful list of Bollywood is too long and endless. However, with changing times and changing minds, Bollywood, also, is showing some courage and understanding towards the LGBTQ community. Bollywood is whitewashing its sin of the past, and this is a healthy change. At this time when the Supreme Court has decriminalized Section 377 and the real fight for respect and recognition from society for the sexual minorities has begun, the soup advertisement featuring Karan Johar is a welcome step. We need to talk about the issue. It has been long enough that we remained silent and suffered. Bollywood can be the way forward, and hopes are high now that characters representing the LGBTQ community will never be ridiculed in Indian cinema like they have been in the past so many years.

And, hey Bollywood! Kindly remember we don’t wear pink all the time.

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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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