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Love, 377

Friday, June 22, 2018

On the occasion of the #pride month, Nakshatra Dharap delves into the representation of the LGBT community in cinema and Indian popular culture

Long neglected, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community is starting to get a better portrayal in mainstream movies and popular culture.

Such instances can be seen in the 2016 movie Kapoor and Sons, which depicted a closeted gay character, Rahul Kapoor, played by Fawad Khan.

The portrayal is not ideal but it is far better than the movies that painted stereotypically homosexual characters in contrast to gender confirmative heterosexuals, such as masculine men in contrast to gay men with traditionally feminine characteristics. These are often pictured as overweight and even obese.

Changing times, however, have bought a changing role played by the gay man. Cookie uncle, played by Vivek Mushran in the feminist Veere Di Wedding is an excellent example of healthier representation in mainstream media and movies. However clichéd this role may be, it is instrumental in the integration of the LGBT community into regular society.

Overall reproduction of the LGBT characters has improved, though much must be done before they will be embraced as an integral part of society.


What does this do to change portrayal of LGBT people? “In terms of queer representation, I think we’ve seen an increase in layered narratives written for people who identify as LGBT. But most of those narratives are restricted to the West. So you have movies like Love, Simon or shows like The Bold Type, and even web series like Carmilla that explore various facets of what it means to be queer,” says Sneha Kumar, a film studies student.

“In the Indian context, that representation is lacking,” she adds. “Even though you do have a web series like The Other Love Story on YouTube about two women falling in love and independent films screened at the Kashish Film Festival that tackle the complexity of being queer but also South Asian—our mainstream media still seems to be stuck in producing stereotypes.”

Sneha points out that Bollywood continues to crack jokes at the expense of queer people, though even there we do have glimpses of mature representation—the recent example being Kareena Kapoor’s gay uncle and his partner in Veere Di Wedding. “We still have a long way to go through,” she observes. “If we’re not comfortable addressing the LGBT community, in reality, how are we ever going to get to a space of being

comfortable watching queer characters in our films or television shows or even reading about them in books?”

As it has been for a very long time, the representation of this community is often treated as entertainment. The overly dramatic behaviour of gay men or masculine behaviour of lesbians on screen reinforces stereotypes and displays rampant homophobia. Overall, the representation of the queer community has improved steadily from movies like Girlfriend to gay portrayal in Veere Di Wedding. The tacky portrayal of homosexuals and trans people is still considered appropriate in mainstream media. While there have been attempts to reform the way people think and the way the community is presented in popular culture, the backward thought about the LGBT community still prevails.

Param Thakkar, student and LGBT activist, says that the situation really needs to improve. “It’s getting better, but for the most part, gay and trans people are still used as joke punchlines in movies,” he adds.

Alisha Roy (name changed), LGBT activist, adds to this statement. “It is not like the community cannot cope without representation, it’s the feeling of loneliness and incompetence one feels when they realise they are not ‘normal’. There is no reality in the characters. Out of all the mainstream Bollywood movies, there is no openly gay character that really represents us.” She says that it is always a token character who sets their ‘evil’ eyes on a person of the same sex and that this representation will do no good for the community. However, regional movies such as Mitraa, Sancharram, Bombgay, Chitrangadha and Arekti Premer Golpo have broken stereotypes and tried to change the way the community is portrayed. These movies are stepping stones towards the eventual acceptance of LGBT people. Younger generations are far more sympathetic to this community and there seems to be a rainbow at the end of the tunnel.

The historical significance

Throughout Vedic India and Mughal India, homosexuality was a common occurrence and intersex people were worshipped as a union between man and woman. There are stories and instances of homosexuality in ancient India. One tells us of how two women made love to each other in the absence of their husbands and produced a child without bones. According to a Tamil folktale, Krishna turned into Mohini to marry and spend the night with Aravan, a virgin who was to be killed the next day. These stories are can be seen as repressed homosexual fantasies of a culture. We can also clearly see through these stories that homosexuality is not a western import but homophobia and section 377 are not part of our culture.

What is Section 377?

Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises intercourse against the order of nature. This includes carnal or anal intercourse between members of the same gender. This law was introduced during the British era in the 1860s. The punishment for this offence is a life sentence or imprisonment up to ten years, depending on the extent of the crime. This section was quashed in 2009, but in the last stretch of 2013, was reinstated by the Supreme Court of India. The mindset of people in modern India is still not tolerant of this community. Deep-rooted homophobia and fear of LGBT community have prevented the community from voicing their importance in a humanitarian society.

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