Bollywood and misrepresentation of LGBT culture

Movies and popular culture are a representation of the society. And more often than not, it is the other way round as well. What we grow up watching on the screen, we believe it to be true. We believe it to the extent of implementing it in real life.

The best example of that is Bollywood and its treatment of LGBT culture. The Hindi movie industry has given us all decades of entertainment, but along with that quite an unhealthy dose of homophobia and transphobia.

The typical Bollywood mainstream commercial movies have messed up a lot of concepts that people have started to call out and demand change of late. Case in point, the way Bollywood has handled heterosexual romantic courtships is certainly questionable, normalising stalking, misogynistic behaviour, emotional blackmail and whatnot. So if hetero-normativity is such weakly represented, we can only imagine what happened to LGBT culture.

Some of the LGBT misrepresentations are blatant and in your face. For example, the very wrong and stereotypical representation of transgender people as heartless money-laundering or brothel-running or sex-trafficking villains, and for some reason they always wear the shiniest clothes and jewelleries.

If you are searching your memory for it, characters Lajja Shankar Pandey from Sangharsh and Maharani from Sadak played by Ashutosh Rana and Sadashiv Amrapurkar.

18Source: News 18

Representing the third gender wrong has long been a problematic area for Bollywood movies. The way they were portrayed was nothing more than a token presence, a superficial display of inclusion. If not a villain, then they would almost always be there for tasteless comic reliefs – either to crack the jokes or be at its receiving end.

But what is worse than making a trans person stereotypically villain or comedian? Not giving them any base of character at all. The most prominent aspect of it is cisgender male cross-dressing. Keeping aside a few like Chachi 420, in most films, cross-dressing is something thrown around casually and without any depth – it adds nothing to the story, nor does the story demand it. Saif Ali Khan in Humshakal, Akshay Kumar in Khiladi, Govinda in Raja Babu – the list is long.

06-HumshakalsSource: http://www.mid-day.com

Coming to homosexuality, it got a very different treatment altogether. While men wearing fake breasts and over-the-top makeup were being used to draw laughs, homosexuality got a very tone-deaf treatment.

Somehow, if it was shown as something ostensible, like a little secret between the character and the audience, it was okay and acceptable, and ever “aww’d” over. For example: Principal Vasisht in Student of the Year and the entire plot of Dostana.

23homosexual3Source: Being Indian

Another very common trope is the effeminacy of the gay characters. Sure, in real life some of them are, but not all of them. Being gay and being effeminate is not mutually inclusive. Also, not all of them are fashion designers or next-door aspiring good-for-nothing or a distant uncle who does not really matter. They can any day be a father, a colleague, a teacher or even a mailman. Homosexuality does not discriminate between professions.

The ideal example would be Suresh Menon who kept playing roles of over-animated, richly dressed effeminate gay person in mainstream movies like Dostana, Kal Ho Na Ho and Partner. There are more such characters in numerous movies, and all of them are doing OTT antics and cracking double meaning jokes, till the hero comes along and cracks one on him instead.

suresh-menon-759Source: Indian Express

Last but not the least, there is less than 2% representation of healthy lesbian relationships. They are not funny, they are not stereotyped, they are not misrepresented – they simply do not exist other than when men talk about porn. Among the very few Hindi movies that have explored it is Deepa Mehta’s Fire, starring Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi. In fact, it was one of the first big movies to have done LGBT representation right, way back in 1996.

However, in the recent years there have been some movies to fix some of the wrongs. Kapoor and Sons showed Fawad Khan’s character being at ease with his homosexuality, but also having troubles to explain himself to his upset mother.

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In Margarita with a Straw, Kalki Koechlin’s Laila explores bisexuality all-the while fighting society’s raised eyebrows at her condition – cerebral palsy.

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Aligarh was the spine-chilling true story of gay professor Ramchandra Siras of Aligarh University who was first removed from his position of faculty head for his sexuality and then found dead in his own apartment.

aligarh-still1-759Source: The Indian Express

Movies like Bombay Talkies and My Brother… Nikhil also did a good job in representing the LGBT people right.

However, it is far from enough, especially now when cultural and social inclusivity is a big factor in the entertainment industry. With online streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon Prime ruling the industry, more and more diverse movies should be made. Raj Amit Kumar’s movie Unfreedom is a prime example of that.

Dealing with more than one “controversial” topics (of which homosexuality is one), this movie was banned by the Censor Board of India. But it is available on Netflix India to stream after three years of toil by the makers.

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Moreover, creators should not only make natural, plot-fitting, substantial characters for the gays, lesbians and transgender people, but also acknowledge the other alphabets of the spectrum. The whole umbrella term is LGBTQI+, where the B, Q, I stand for bisexual, queer and intersex and the plus stands for every other gender and sexuality that there are. Representing them is equally important.

It is 2018. Section 377 has finally been struck down. It is high time the world’s largest movie industry did something about the marginalisation of the LGBT community.

 

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