Bollywood is riddled with problems like rampant sexism, plotless scripts, hyperbolic masculinity, and latent sanskaar lessons, to name a few.
But there is one aspect in which Bollywood has the distinction of being completely apathetic and tone deaf – its treatment of the LGBTQI+ community over the years.
Most Hindi films include or have included in the past some form of homophobia, transphobia and rejection of the LGBTQI+ community as a whole or in part. By adroitly veiling atrocity in the garb of humour, filmmakers have for decades normalized homophobia in Indian society. So much so that most people do not even realize the offence while watching the films.
But how to find out if the Hindi film you are watching is homophobic? Watch out for the following stereotypes.
Trope No. 1 –
Remember Sangharsh and Sadak? Both films glorified trans persons as cruel, blood-curdling villains, with not a shred of human empathy or emotion. These villains were mostly involved in trafficking away little girls into prostitution. The images were so scary that they remain etched in the minds of many a kid who watched it, including me.
Trope No 2 –
We have all seen actor Suresh Menon prance and preen in mainstream films like Kal Ho Na Ho, Dostana etc, acting the inveterate gay man. He is easily submissive, can take a joke (or a beating) at the expense of his sexuality and is not afraid to wear flamboyant shirts or be called offensive names, just to afford his audience a dry chuckle or two between scenes.
Trope No 3 –
Remember Amitabh Bachchan’s iconic impersonation of a eunuch in Laawaris? Why couldn’t they use an actual transgender instead of making Bachchan put on such exaggerations? He is of course not the only one. These representations are fairly common in Hindi films and are often hyper-sexualised, stereotypical and downright offensive. Read Riteish Deshmukh in Apna Sapna Money Money and Amir Khan in Baazi. Of course, the list is endless.
Trope No 4 -
Lesbians are left untouched in Indian films unless the film’s ambition is to shock and awe. Portrayals of lesbian relationships as a semi pornographic strings of giggles and catfights smeared in lipstick and sexualized to the hilt increases the alienation that lesbians in the country feel. Isha Kopikkar and Amrita Rao's steamy scenes in Girlfriend, a grossly unrepresentative film about a lesbian relationship, is a case in point.
Trope no 5 –
A classic, this trope is often used to freak out the cis hero when he is drunk on a night out. The familiar gag of a trans-man in womens clothing surprising the virginal hero with his willy in the mens' room queue reeks of homophobia. Trans men are often portrayed as sexual predators on the lookout for casual sex. Do you really think all that a trans man does is dream of tricking pretty straight boys in to bed? Representing trans men as bodacious sirens (such as Ashish Chaudhary in Double Dhamaal, Saif Ali Khan in Humshakals and Shah Rukh Khan in Duplicate) is quite the norm in Bollywood. The fact that these characters are often not actually trans men make matters worse.
Trope No 6 -
The cross-dressing-CIS-male –
This one is particularly popular and cruel. It’s a pop practice for actors to cross-dress on screen to meet the ‘nuances of the script’. Our heroes put up fake breasts and high voices to mimic their idea of being a woman and the result is toxic objectification of not just cross dressers and transpersons but also cis women. The fake boobs and wig are of course discarded the minute the hero has to do something heroic or honourable. Want examples? Think of Rishi Kapoor in Rafoo Chakkar, Shreyash Talpade in Paying Guest, Akshay Kumar in Khiladi, and how to forget the pathetic portrayal of a widow by Govinda to win his lady love in Raja Babu.
The next time you are watching a film, remember to look out for these tell-tale signs of homophobia.
Films that foment homophobia and engender stigma against a community by reducing them into unrealistic stereotypes may in part be the reason why India continues to fail at providing safe spaces to members of the LGBTQI community. Case in point is a same sex couple in Gujarat who killed themselves because they could not find acceptance in the world.
Are some laughs in a movie hall really worth harming an entire community’s chance at acceptance and happiness?