Sense and sensibility

Amrita Prasad
Sunday, 9 September 2018

With Supreme Court decriminalising homosexuality in India and scrapping Section 377, Amrita Prasad speaks to actors and filmmakers to find out if this historic judgement will encourage more artists to make sensible films and web series on the LGBTQI

Apprehensive actors 
Director, writer and actor Amit Khanna, who created the first ever web series on the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) community titled All About Section 377, is rolling out the second series Still About Section 377 on Dancing Shiva Production’s YouTube channel. He feels that the monumental judgement will encourage more and more actors and directors to make films, web series etc on the community.
He says, “The outcome will be positive and extremely liberating for storytellers and actors. Since social acceptance is the next step, it’s important for big actors to play LGBTQI characters.”
Amit has no qualms about admitting that actors do shy away from playing these characters and he too faced challenges while choosing the cast for his show. “I ended up casting myself in it. As an actor, one needs to be open-minded and bring every character to life and not be judgemental. However, I’m extremely happy about this landmark judgement — it’s progressive and liberating. Our show Still About Section 377, which released on September 9, educates and creates awareness on LGBTQI and leads society towards acceptance. It will help solidify the judgement further. A new revolution begins,” he says.

Changing times 
As an industry, we have been evolving. We have had films like Kapoor & Sons, Aligarh, Bombay Talkies and so on and even the web series Romil & Jugal had the protagonists playing gay characters. We have reached a stage where we do not have stereotypical homosexual characters anymore. I see a change and a very positive one,” says actor Saqib Saleem who was recently seen in Race 3.
The actor was appreciated for playing a gay intern Avinash in Bombay Talkies, which also stars Rani Mukerji and Randeep Hooda. Saqib did not play a typical Bollywood homosexual character. When asked why we don’t see many actors in mainstream Bollywood films portraying homosexual or transgender characters, Saqib answers, “I don’t know about others but I never choose my scripts on the basis of the character’s sexuality and I hope other actors think alike. What is important is that a good story needs to be told. Even the character in Netflix’s web series Sacred Games, Kubbra Sait who plays Cuckoo (a transgender woman), has been written so well. Times are changing and I am happy with this change.”  

Kubbra mentions that after watching her show people asked her if she was actually a transgender. She says that she doesn’t know what has held back actors and filmmakers from showing the community on the big screen. “Few films have been made, but the ones which were made like My Brother Nikhil, I Am, or Aligarh, did bring to the forefront sensitivities and sensibilities like never before. It was like a muffled voice with a desperate want to be heard. Most of the films were spearheaded by the proud members of the LGBTQI community, in capacities of writers or directors. The actors did a fabulous and commendable job,” she adds. 

To essay a transgender woman with conviction and honesty in Sacred Games, Kubbra went to the extent of wearing a prosthetic penis for one of the scenes. She says, “After the judgement, the good thing is that there won’t be tasteless jokes any more. The freedom to explore more will be embraced. The writing will be empowered with more colourful shades and will be more respectful. There will and must be more of the real world in the fictitious one we are trying to create.”
Playing a third gender has made her more empathetic. “I feel tremendously humbled to have been given the opportunity to play Cuckoo,” she adds.

Joy B Ganguly, an independent producer’s parthbreaking Bengali film — Nagarkirtan (The Eunuch & The Flute Player) — won four National Film Awards this year. The film was directed by Kaushik Ganguly.

Joy believes that the Supreme Court ruling will give more impetus to filmmakers to make content on such issues. “As far as actors are concerned, they shouldn’t be apprehensive. Cate Blanchett played Bob Dylan, need I say more? We should see more of LGBTQI content driven stories, however, it will again depend on the mindset and attitude of the creator. Not everyone will be willing to make another My Brother Nikhil or even a Nagarkirtan that easily, unless wrapped around the subtlety of a Kapoor & Sons or Dostana,” says Joy.
Riddhi Sen, the National Award Winning actor who played the protagonist in Nagarkirtan, says that legalising homosexualiy will encourage artists. “My salute to the Supreme Court, and to all those who have always been supporting the LGBTQI community, and fearless artists who have never held back themselves from telling stories about them. Not sure if actors have reservations about playing gay/ lesbian/ transgender characters, but sometimes a lot of producers are afraid of making a film on homosexuals. However, I think the norms are breaking and a lot of amazing stories are being told. For example, Nagarkirtan won four National Awards this year. Similarly, there are many who have written and produced films on LGBTQ even before the abolishment of 377. Now, I am sure the scrapping of Article 377 will give a lot of courage  to people to come forward with their stories,” says Riddhi, 20, who will be soon seen in Helicopter Eela alongside Kajol.

While a lot of films have mocked gays, Samir Soni, who played gay designer Rahul Arora in Fashion, says, “It didn’t offend anyone’s sensibilities and it was accepted well. Usually, gay characters are stereotyped, but in Fashion, you get to see a person’s point of view when he confesses that he loves a man, but has to marry a woman for society’s sake. You get to see a gay person beyond his sexual orientation and understand the problems he is dealing with.” 

Ask him if legalising gay sex will have a positive impact on Bollywood and Samir says that it will take a long time. “This is just a legal stamp, but as far as society is concerned, we still have a long way to go. It has just been ‘decriminalised,’ but the film industry has to keep in mind what society thinks and what is acceptable. This is a big step in the right direction, but we shouldn’t start imagining that things will change overnight. There is a long bumpy ride ahead. Only when it becomes socially acceptable and people are willing to watch it, and it doesn’t affect their sensibilities, we can see more films on LGBTQI.”
Talking about how most gay characters have been portrayed in Bollywood, he says, “They are either caricatures or in experimental cinema. They show intense passionate scenes, extreme nude scenes and sex between two people of the same sex, for which our Indian audience isn’t really prepared now, especially in mainstream cinema. However, web series is exploring the subject. It  also boils down to economics — if you make a film with the central character as gay and that does well, then more and more films will be made keeping the subject in mind. That’s how the industry works — it is not always art for the sake of art, they have to make money at the same time.” 

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