Yes, it's great that Bollywood is making films about Queer characters.
First, there was Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga which was based on the fantasies of a lesbian girl. Then there was Shubha Mangal Zyada Saavdhaan which focused on the relationship of a gay couple. And now there's Laxmi Bomb, Bollywood's first film featuring a transwoman as the protagonist.
But what is the one thing that is common between all these films? None of them feature actual actors from the LGBTQIA community.
While Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar has already started raking in applause (and moolah) for his upcoming role as a transwoman in the horror-comedy "Laxmi Bomb".
Kumar recently told the media that this was a very challenging role for him to play. He also said in interviews that he made great efforts to not offend any "communities" while shooting for the film. While the queer community must have appreciated his candor and sensitivity, perhaps a better way to be conscious of the community's feelings would have been to let a queer or LGBTQI actor play the role.
During a virtual press conference to announce the direct-to-digital release of 'Lakshmi Bomb', Akshay Kumar said during the interaction, "In my 30 years career, this is my most mentally tough role. Raghava introduced me to a version of me even I didn’t know existed. This character is unlike anything I have portrayed before and I had to be sure that I did this role without offending any community. Despite doing 150 films, I was so excited to be on the sets every day. I have never given as many retakes as I have given in this film. Laxmmi Bomb has made me more sensitive about gender equality."
The recent years have seen growing talk about the representation of minorities sin films, television, books and pop-culture across the world. Much has been said about the representation of people of colour, diverse and minority ethnicities such as Asians, and people from the LGBTQIA community. While Hollywood has managed to increase its on-screen diversity, even if by a tad, the same is not true for India.
Here, actors are often seen donning brownface to play a character with darker skin. Here, straight actors almost always play queer roles where they end up using makeup, costumes, and extravagant (read stereotypical) gesturing and body language to portray LGBTQIA characters.
Why not get queer actors to play the roles instead?
Ironically, the film comes at a time when the topic of minority representation in films is hot off the press, with popular actors and directors across the world owning up to their lack of efforts in increasing diversity on screen. Take the case of actress Alison Brie, for instance, who came forth with an unforced and public apology for voicing the role of a popular Vietnamese-American character (Diane Ngyuyen) from the popular animated Netflix series Bojack Horseman. both the actor, as well as the director of the series owned up to their mistake and regretted not having chosen a Vietnamese actor to voice the role (or in Brie's case, not having walked away from the role).
But perhaps it is too early to expect this level of maturity from actors and filmmakers in India, who until recently portrayed queer characters as jokes for comic relief in films, or murderous deviants and child-kidnappers who needed to be locked up and put in jail.
While it is great that more and more filmmakers are turning to queer characters and basing entire films on queer themes instead of using them as formulaic tropes, it seems Bollywood is still a far way from achieving true diversity. Case in point? In August 2018, filmmaker Farz Arif Ansari wanted to make a feature film based on the life of a transwoman. But when he tried to look for trans actors to play the role, he found none. A report in 2019 by Vice claimed that the director had still not found his actress.
Perhaps he should start hitting up Bollywood heroes for the same.
The film will release directly on Disney+ Hotstar.