In India it has recently become a criminal offence to discriminate against people due to their sexual orientation. But commercial Indian films are far from catching up with the law and still hide under the curtain of comedy -- all for a reason, say filmmakers.
"There is an anxiety when it comes to gay films and gay-based roles," said documentary filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan at an open forum at the 13th Mumbai Film Festival, on Monday. The talk focussed on LGBT films in India.
Filmmaker Tarun Mansukhani, the director of ‘Dostana’ – so far the only mainstream, commercial, hit Bollywood film to talk of gay issues upfront – defended his idea of portraying gays in a comical vein.
"If I were to make a film where both my characters were gay, first of all I wouldn't get the money. Secondly there would be no mainstream actors who'd want to play it, and thirdly the audience would shy away from it," he said.
Defending both – his film and other stereotypical portrayals that could have been more honest – he added: "If you scream from the rooftops in favour of gay issues, it will not work. Give it some time. Let us begin by having some fun with it. The time will come when the nation would open up and we'd see their true and sensitive representation in commercial cinema."
But is middle class India ready to see "queer" films? Onir, who is open about his sexual preference, believes they are.
"I have taken both 'My Brother Nikhil' and 'I Am' to the remotest corners of the country and not only did no one have any objections, but there ran to packed houses."
When asked to compare his 'commercial' films with those of Onir, Mansukhani said: "They are doing the sensitive side of the issue. I am doing the commercial, where yes, there are a lot of jokes and there is stereotyping of gays.
"But I don't want to rush into it and not just get booted out, but also kill any chance of any other sensitive filmmaker in the future who wants to make films on the issue."
He repeated: "Over time it is bound to get normalised in cinema. Have patience." New York-based film journalist Aseem Chhabra was of the opinion that there has been a lot of remarkable work done in India in terms of feature films, short films and documentaries. But the work has not traveled much, according to him.
"Not just in cinema, but as a country India has a long way to go," said Chhabbra. Actor Rajit Kapoor, who had acted in a very bold short film about a male prostitute serenaded by an elderly businessman, said: "Change is happening slow and steadily. We are on the road to progress. So let us be happy about what we have achieved so far."
Rajit also features in an upcoming film on the issue by Deepti Naval. There was no common consensus on the issue during the forum, except one: it was indeed great thfat MAMI had such an open forum.