Seems like a good time to do one of my “this isn’t everything, or even the best things, this is just some stuff to think about” posts on queerness with Ek Ladki Ko Dekho coming out soon. Plus, I love our little discussion posts!
I’ve written a whole paper on this thing, so I’m not going to go through it all again. Let’s just leave it at the simple discussion question, is a movie in which two straight male characters playing gay is played for laughs still progressive thanks to a few sincere impassioned speeches and sentimental moments? Or does the Three’s Company style farcical treatment ruin it all?
One of the classic against the grain readings of classic Indian film. With the way male-male friendships are foregrounded in so many Indian films, it is easy to find these readings. Or even to question if they are against the grain or not? Since some parts of Indian society are still in that “men can have sex with men when they really need to but it doesn’t make them gay” limbo zone. What is definite is that the deepest most loving relationship in Sholay, the most important relationship, is between Jai and Veeru. Gay or not, they love each other; does that make the film queer or just open the possibility of queerness, or does the heterosexual love interests they are both given ruin any queerness potential?
In this case, Pran does not have a heterosexual love interest. He is completely focused on his friendship with Amitabh. You could even argue that this film presents a loving version of a polyamorous threesome, with Jaya and Pran working together to take care of Amitabh. Or, you could say that Amitabh and Jaya are a couple and Pran is Amitabh’s best friend and that friendship, pure friendship, relationship is equally worthy of respect. What do you say?
Such an interesting film! There is the femme-butch relationship between the two gypsy women in “Pardesi Pardesi”, and there is also the odd thing of the two servants, the woman who acts like a man and the man who acts like a woman. Which ends with the woman being married off and learning to be a real woman, but the man still acting like a woman. Is the whole thing begging for a queer reading? Or is it so outside of awareness of queerness that it treats any kind of gender bending (whether it two female gypsies singing to each other or the servants) as humorous, and surreal?
Veere Di Wedding
Personally, I love this presentation. Kareena’s two uncles are more supportive and parental and “normal” with her, than her father and her stepmother. Or her constantly fighting parents before her mother died. And their relationship status is never a source of conflict, Kareena’s uncle and father fight over Kareena, over inheritance, but never over her uncle’s relationship with his partner. The only question is, is this too idealized of a view? Should the relationship have been foregrounded a little more instead of making it into nothing?
Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na
This is one you only know about from outside sources. The writer/director explained in the director’s commentary that he intended for Sugandha Garg to be a lesbian. He never had the film say it straight out, but it was there in her performance and in the way her character was written. Always part of the group but slightly outside of it, always a little bit ahead of them in terms of understanding romance. And of course, the only one not paired up at the end. Should he have made it more explicit, maybe even paired her up at the end? Or is it better this way, just there in the fringes for the audience to see?
Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania
A film that dances back and forth on playing queerness for humor. Our hero is trying to “trap” the heroine’s groom into admitting he is gay. But at the same time, the strongly coded as and openly gay friend of the groom is eventually welcomed into their group, seen drinking late at night with them. And the groom himself, instead of being “caught” in the trap, sincerely offers to help the young man he believes to be gay to come out, to support him. Does the initial comic set-up ruin the intent? Or does it just barely stay on the right side of the line instead of playing queerness for laughs?
Main Khiladi Tu Anari
My personal favorite against the grain film. A strong macho man’s man up against a weak feminine delicate man, the fight, they make up, they rescue each other, they talk closely and intimately together, they dance, they share secrets. Yes, it is “just” a story of odd-ball police partners (a hero cop forced to have a handsome young movie star follow him around), but it feels like so much more while you are watching it. And yet, that was not the intent of the makers at all, or the actors, supposedly Saif even punched Ashok Row Kavi for implying it in a review of the film. Can we still count it as queer just based on how the audience received it, even if it was not how the makers intended it?
Kapoor & Sons
It’s a tricky line, you don’t want to make queerness a life sentence to deadly sincere and deep and dark and often suicidal character dramas. But you also don’t want to minimize the real problems that LGBTQ folks face in Indian culture. Does this film go too far on the side of drama or not far enough? Should Fawad at least been given one male-male kiss? Or allowed to say the word “gay”?
And the bad side. Abhishek pretending to be a fiendishly effeminate dance teacher. Or, is it bad? The “effeminate male dancer” might be an Indian trope that is above and beyond queerness, more just something about male dancers. And there is also the way that at least part of the humor comes from Ajay’s foolish assumptions and reactions to Abhishek’s performance, more than Abhishek’s performance on its own. It is not that queerness alone is funny, what is funny is prejudiced straightness reacting to queerness. Or maybe not. Maybe it is just terrible. What do you think?
Obviously there’s loads more films I could bring up, Fire and Angry Indian Goddesses and Student of the Year and Vishwaroopam and all kinds of other films. Feel free to mention them in the comments, this is just meant to get a conversation started.