Bollywood heroes in the past have been depicted sporting six-packs and protecting their heroines. Cut to characters whose sexuality did not conform to the description of straight and exaggerated movements, squeaky voices and over-the-top colourful ensembles were the order of the day. Think Dostana, Kal Ho na Ho and the like. Even a hint of feminine behaviour in men was mocked or made fun of and the LGBTQ community never got the respect they deserved on screen. But now it time to junk bravado and tune into some realistic cinema for in 2019, filmmakers are not only becoming responsible, but are also dealing with such subjects with utmost sensitivity.
Actors like Ayushamann Khurrana, Akshay Kumar, Swara Bhasker, and even films like Dostana 2 are a few examples that are pushing the envelope to the next level altogether. Ayushmann will soon be playing a gay character in the sequel to Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, and Akshay will be seen being possessed by a transgender woman in Laxmmi Bomb. As far as Swara is concerned, she will be playing a man in her next biopic. Meanwhile, Karan Johar’s Dostana 2 aims to make homosexuality a dinner table conversation.
Transgender activist Gazal Dhaliwal, who wrote Ek Ladki Ko Dekh Toh Aisa Laga, feels that the taboo is more for male actors to play gay characters. “The film industry has not made a full-fledged film on the LGBTQ community. I understand it is also a business decision. In the industry, we have many people from this community and the industry accepts them, but their representation hasn’t been translated on screen in the same way. Such characters are always made fun of on the screen. Producers feel that masses won’t accept such subjects,” she explains.
And that is what makes these films important. “For the first time, a mainstream male actor doing it. Usually, the men are hesitant to take on these roles as it’’s seen as an affront to their masculinity which is a strong tradition in our society, If someone is less masculine, people make fun of him. The taboo for male actors to do a gay character is more. Kudos to Ayushmann, and I have heard of few more scripts based on such subjects,” she adds.
Ayushmann himself feels that since homosexuals are a large part of our society, these characters are the need of the hour. The actor says, “Our society is evolving. We have got rid of Section 377, but still there is a certain section of the society that has objections. So the idea is to reach out to maximum people. We need to make a commercial film on homosexuals for the larger audience, especially those people, who feel they (homosexual people) are not a part of the society and should be shunned,” he opines.
Adding to Ayushmann’s take, Swara says, “When you say content is the king now, a lot has to do with the fact that the audience has changed and their voice is so audible.”
The actress, who is gearing up to play a man named Krishna Sen in her next project, credits social media for this profound change. She says, “Actors are now breaking stereotypes, and it has become the coolest thing. I think Bollywood is changing and evolving, and I give a lot of credit to social media for that. What Instagram, Facebook and Twitter have done is that anyone who has an account is a reviewer, and people are actually reading those reviews. They’re tagging directors and producers.”
She adds that now directors and producers can understand what the audience wants directly. “If in a film like Raanjhana, the audience is speaking about my work, then there is no denying that anymore. So now, the social media reviewers have put the formula-film directors and producers on a back foot.”
Speaking of changed audience preferences, Tusshar Kapoor, who is producing Laxmmi Bomb feels that people want unconventional material but in a more commercial format, which is one of the things that drew him to the film. “I really wanted to be part of a film like this because the concept is so different. The whole twist is very unique and it’s something everybody will like, ás it’s fresh. The more you surprise people, the more interested they are going to be. So that’s why I wanted to produce a movie like this,” he explains.
However, odes to the LGBTQ community are not new. Earlier, we have seen character actors like Paresh Rawal, Sadashiv Amrapurkar, and Ashutosh Rana playing third and transgender characters in films. Nevertheless, commercial actors getting into this space is a refreshing change.
Paresh, who played a third gender person in Tamanna, recalls his role and says his only intention was to give dignity to that community. “There is no denying the fact that we are now entering into the golden period of Hindi cinema. Now, media has become powerful so everything is getting attention, but I have done this long back. People say my choice was ahead of its time but did not design it like that,” he reveals. “People laugh at such people and ridicule them, but they are human at the end of the day. You have to look at them with compassion. It was difficult to get the body language and voice, but I had a great time because Mahesh Bhatt was guiding us,” The Hera Pheri actor adds.
Similarly, Ayushmann is also ensuring that his foray into playing a gay person is done with utmost honesty and sensitivity. “We have a writer-director, he is giving narrations and is in touch with the LGBTQ community. Because it is resonating with them and also carries a certain message, it won’t be caricature-ish at all; it’s a sensitive topic and at the same time it is light-hearted. It’s a combination of both,” he assures....