Significant queer representation in Indian cinema was not a reality until a few years back. Thanks to the addition of Article 377 to the Indian Constitution, after which many mainstream and commercial filmmakers have taken it to their shoulders to normalize queer norms and spread the idea to a larger section of the community. Way before the article was passed, films on LGBTQ were still made in many languages, which however got recognition only during film festivals and awards. This failed to give a significant reach to the community and fight the social taboo.
With coming of age, things have taken a leap, and films on LGBTQ are released frequently with umpteen Indian films today have significant queer community representation.
Dostana (2008, Hindi) must be the first commercial film incorporating homosexuality that reached the larger section of the audience. However, the incorporation of homosexuality, in the end, was only to add to the humor factor. Aligarh (2015, Hindi) was very well received and appreciated for bringing the life of a homosexual professor, Ramachandra Siras who was suspended on grounds of morality, in front of the people. Manoj Bajpayee did an excellent job in portraying the professor who fought hard to get his job back at the university.
Movies about lesbians are much rare than movies about gay people. But the few movies that were made did get discussed a lot and fetched a good reach. Dating back to the 80s, Malayalam film Randu Penkuttikal (1978) starring Shobana can be cited as the oldest movie to explore lesbianism.
Hindi film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019) was the most recent commercial movie to reflect on this sensitive issue. You would not expect a glamorous fashionista like Sonam Kapoor to take such a challenging and kind of controversial role.
And from the man who is doing films only to normalize existing social taboos, Ayushmann Khurrana, really hit it off in his latest film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan which is a complete package of full-on humor and witty takes on homosexuality. In order to appeal convincing to the Indian audience, such an approach always works. We all know that Ayushmann Khurrana never disappoints. It’s good to see young actors making an effort to destroy this social stigma that is prevalent in our society.
LGBTQ is not all about homosexuality. The most suppressed and unheard community not just in our country but the whole world is undoubtedly the transgender community. In older Indian movies, all transgender characters belonged to the “evil-brothel owner-slash-villain” category.
Trans characters in movies are ridiculed and made a stock of laughter in front of the audience. This somewhere created a stereotype in mainstream Indian culture which later became hard to shake off. Rampant transphobia was the result of all this large-scale media mockery.
But over the past two years, this mockery has now transformed into respect. The real-life trans people who were given minuscule roles have now come to the limelight to adorn the lead roles. Anjali Ameer from Peranbu (2019, Tamil) is one such actor. Though she is shown as a sex worker, Meera (Anjali Ameer) later ends up being the wife of Mammooty’s character Amudhavan. This is a significant and stereotype-breaking climax as such a portrayal has never been seen in recent cinemas!
Super Deluxe (Tamil, 2019) is also closely associated with this ‘stereotype breaking club’. Shilpa (Vijay Sethupathy), who was earlier Manickam, comes to meet her son after seven years. It is, however, Raskutty, Shilpa’s son, who steals the show. While everyone is taken aback by the transformation of Manickam, Raskutty is the only one happy to see her just the way she is. A lesson to the judgemental society from a seven-year-old boy!
I’m pretty sure I have missed out on many other movies from different languages that discuss this sensitive issue. With such movies getting worldwide acceptance and also doing good business, all that we can pray for is – Let the rainbow shine in Indian cinema!
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