If you ask an Indian their biggest source of learning in life, their answer would be:
Parents? No. School? Noooo. Society? Haha, are you kidding? Bollywood? YES!! From quoting their favorite dialogues to dancing to the groovy beats of Hindi films, Indians live and breathe Bollywood. We mostly learn from Bollywood because, in some way or the other, we can connect to these films, and owing to the relatability of the characters, we subconsciously start imitating their ideologies.
There is still one particular area where Bollywood stands out as entirely unsympathetic and inconsiderate: its portrayal of the LGBTQI+ group. Most of us are often oblivious of the flaws or prefer to ignore the problematic depiction within Bollywood because we are not directly affected by it. However, Bollywood has often failed to understand the queer movement and only worsened the plight of the LGBT community in the country.
Whether it's Kanta Ben's shock and disgust at the slightest hint of Saif Ali Khan's character being gay in Kal Ho Na Ho or the clichéd portrayal of gay men in Dostana, such stereotypes only add to the stigma around the LGBTQI+ community. And when this doesn't help, cross-dressing cis men come to the rescue. Whether it's Ritesh Deshmukh in Apna Sapna Money Money or Saif Ali Khan in Humshakals, our male protagonists put on artificial breasts and tell offensive jokes for the sake of their plotless scripts, resulting not only in the objectification of transgenders but also women.
Take Suresh Menon’s role in Partner for instance where he plays Katrina’s best friend, his role is limited to dressing up, calling everyone darling, and hitting on other men. The representation of gay men has been limited to them swaying their hips, being submissive, and acting out in the most stereotypical ways. The portrayal of transgenders has been limited to negative roles, running brothels in red light areas as shown in movies like Gangubai Kathiawadi and Sangharsh. Other members of the LGBTQIA+ community still remain underrepresented in Bollywood. Keeping in mind the great influence of such movies, the depiction of LGBTQ characters in a homophobic light has translated into our mindsets in one way or the other.
Bollywood movies have often succeeded in portraying their heteronormative mindsets by always showing a heterosexual couple in the lead. Mainstream media has taught us the composition of an ideal couple: a man and a woman being in love. For decades, filmmakers have skilfully concealed heteronormativity under the guise of humor, glorifying homophobia in our society.
This is not to say that we are not making progress. Earlier, movies like ‘Margarita with a Straw’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Aligarh’ showed an honest and positive representation of the LGBT community. However, these movies remained far from the radar of the common Indian household. It is only now that movies like ‘Ek Ladki ko Dekha to Aisa Laga’ (with its acknowledgment of lesbians) and ‘Chandigarh Kare Ashiqui’ (with its portrayal of transgenders) have emerged in mainstream media. With increased awareness around the LGBTQIA+ community, not only are the filmmakers now more mindful of the content they produce, but the audience too is conscious of the content they consume.
As we approach an era of inclusivity, we are understanding that a few chuckles are not worth jeopardising a community’s chance of getting acceptance in society. However, we still need more favorable and realistic queer representation in mainstream media. We may have a long way to go in attaining queer liberation in Bollywood but a vibrant rainbow awaits us because as they say: Picture abhi baaki hai mere dost!