Bollywood and homophobia go hand in hand.
For years now, Bollywood has had its stereotypical and caricature-like portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community. From OTT Rishi Kapoor in Karan Johar's Student of the Year to a cross-dressing Saif Ali Khan in Humshakals, to an easily submissive Suresh Menon in god knows how many movies, the list is painfully inexhaustive.
It is quite evident that Bollywood filmmakers have been portraying homosexuals in a regressive way under the garb of humour. "I think I got the issue into mainstream. Sometimes in cinema, we use humour as a crutch to make it more acceptable to larger audience. There are so many films on LGBT now and I am proud that I got the ball rolling," Karan Johar, producer of Dostana, Kal Ho Naa Ho said in a candid session with Shobha De at 2016's JLF event.
Stereotypes are common.
Remember 'Gay Mehra' in Premm Aggan whose entire character was introduced in the movie for that fantastic joke or that cricket sequence in Salman Khan's Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya (1998) that is everything but funny and difficult to sit through in 2019?
While such portrayals have been extremely demeaning to the entire community, there have been several instances in the Hindi film industry when the moviemakers touched upon homosexuality with sensitivity, sensibility and didn't shove the character's sexuality in the audience's faces.
And what better a time than September 6 to celebrate such cinema as India marks the one year anniversary of the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the Imperial-era law that made consensual same-sex intercourse "unnatural" and "illegal."
Here's a list:
#1 Aligarh (2016)
Directed by Hansal Mehta, Aligarh weaves the traumatic world of Professor Ramchandra Siras - a lonely man who loves poetry and is content with sipping whiskey in his modest flat as Lata Mangeshkar's voice plays a companion in his seemingly mundane life. But things turn ugly when Siras, brilliantly played by Manoj Bajpayee, is "caught" engaging in consensual intercourse with another man.
The movie is based on the true story of Dr Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who was suspended from his job as a Marathi professor at Aligarh Muslim University after he was publicly exposed for being a homosexual.
#2 Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)
With the likes of Anil Kapoor, Juhi Chawla, and Rajkummar Rao filling up the mainstream cinema screen, we are told about Sweetu (Sonam Kapoor) - a young girl from Punjab whose well-meaning family is looking for a munda who she can settle down with. It's only when Sahil Mirza (Rao) enters her life as a probable suitor, we find out Sweetu is surely in love but with another woman.
#3 Kapoor & Sons (2016)
Produced under Karan Johar's banner Dharma Productions, Kapoor & Sons is all about a family. A family that is very much dysfunctional, where everyone is fighting their own battles. With an ensemble cast of Fawad Khan, Alia Bhatt, Sidharth Malhotra, Ratna Pathak Shah, Rajat Kapoor, Rishi Kapoor - this 2016 drama tells us that all is not well in Ratna Pathak ad Rajat Kapoor's marriage, Arjun Kapoor (Sidharth Malhotra), the younger sibling is a runner-up in life and the elder son, Rahul Kapoor (Fawad Khan) is burdened with the 'perfect son' tag.
Oh, and also, Rahul, "the perfect son" is gay but the makers don't show him as the story's central plot and make khichdi out of his sexuality instead we watch him fight his inner-conflicts and what leads up to him coming out to his mom.
#4 Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. (2007)
To keep his parents happy, a closet homosexual, NRI man marries a woman only to realise that this wasn't the life he wanted. One of the six honeymooning couples in Reema Kagti's Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. is that of Bunty (Vikram Chatwal) and wife Madhu played by Sandhya Mridul.
The chat mangni pat byah couple, with their own bags of secrets, are in for more heartbreaks.
#5 Margarita with a Straw (2014)
Margarita with a Straw is about the world of Laila (Kalki Koechlin), a teenager with cerebral palsy living in New Delhi, who is an aspiring writer and has a thing for music.
As Laila receives a semester's scholarship to study in New York, she meets Khanum (Sayani Gupta), a blind girl with whom she falls in love for her unabashedness. However, while being in a serious relationship with a woman, Laila is also attracted to Jared, a man she meets during a creative writing class as she is shown grappling with her sexual orientation in Shonali Bose's directorial.
#6 Fire (1996)
Banned over "religious insensitivity" for portraying the "culprit" characters as Radha and Sita, Deepa Mehta's 1996 Fire dealt with a lesbian relationship, a journey of Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das who come together to fulfil their passions not out of choice but due to the lack of acknowledgement from their spouses.
#7 Bombay Talkies (2013)
While Karan Johar has given us the likes of Dostana and in your face "main gay hoon" Rishi Kapoor in SOTY, the director's learning curve can be accurately traced in characters such as Saquib Saleem's in one of the four stories of 2013's anthology Bombay Talkies. Saquib Saleem as Avinash stays with you. For a long, long time.
Avinash (Saquib Saleem) has a moment of truth with his on-screen father and rants about how he is homosexual and not a eunuch, something his middle-class father does not comprehend and simply chucks him out of his house.
This sets the tone of Karna Johar's Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh as Avinash finds himself interning under associate editor of newspaper Gayatri (Rani Mukerji), whom he befriends.
Gayatri introduces him to news anchor-husband Randeep Hooda and things take off between the two. Nope, not between Gayatri and Avinash.
Not just the Hindi film industry, the human portrayal and representation of homosexuals has thankfully seeped into regional cinema and your daily-binge series.
Made in Heaven (2019)
Zoya Akhtar's Made in Heaven streaming on Amazon Prime uses weddings to unveil the underlying hypocrisy in society. The show explores through a roller-coaster of emotions such as ambition and infidelity - through its central characters played by Sobhita Dhulipala and Arjun Mathur.
The show also chronicles the journey of Arjun Mathur as a homosexual man, who remains in denial about his sexuality as a teenager to coming to terms with his own self to eventually turning into a voice for the LGBTQ community.
The show is Not about his sexuality, and that's what makes a lot of difference.
Parimal, aka Pari (Riddhi Sen) in 2019's critically acclaimed Bengali movie Nagarkirtan is a woman trapped in a man's body. Director Kaushik Ganguly beautifully traces the aching journey of Parimal, whose traumatic childhood forces him to run away from home and join a gang of eunuchs as he sings at traffic signals to earn some money. There he meets Madhu, ably played Ritwick Chakraborty, a delivery boy, and love sparkles.