Queer representation in Bollywood

The journey from monomorphic portrayals to mainstream cinema.

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When homosexuality was decriminalised in India with the ban of the archaic Section 377, queer representation seemingly increased and somewhat evolved in mainstream Bollywood.

Laxmmi Bomb releases today on Disney+ and Hotstar. The Bollywood horror film is a Hindi remake of the Tamil film Muni 2. The film’s plot revolves around Akshay Roy who has been possessed by the ghost of a trans woman named Laxmmi. Akshay Roy is played by Akshay Kumar. 

queer bollywood

The story is about the spirit of a trans woman possessing a cis-gendered man’s body to avenge her death against an evil MLA. As Bollywood borrows its narrative from the Tamil horror-comedy flick, it would be interesting to see how they treat the queer aspect of the film. If they treat Laxmmi’s character appropriately or use her non-binary nature for shock value and comedy.

Since the LGBTQIA community has been popularly misrepresented on in the past. The display of slapstick comedy about gayness in Dostana and Kanta Ben‘s homophobia in Kal Ho Na Ho justifies the concern for accuracy.

Queer folks have mostly been used as a one-dimensional trope or for comic relief. The evolution of queer representation is only now looking a wee bit varied. In this day and age, Bollywood has begun slowly treating it’s queer characters with respect and considering them to be unique characters with their own stories. 

In the West, Armie Hammer and Timothy Chalamet gave interviews as a couple for their gay love story Call Me By Your Name. Queer Bollywood has not yet reached that admirable stage of comfort and dignity.

Queer bollywood
Source: IMDB

When Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga released in 2019, the film baited some audience into buying tickets to see love bloom between Sweety (Sonam Kapoor) and Sahil (Rajkummar Rao). But little did they know, Sweety was falling in love with the sister of the man she was meant to marry.

The disapproval of her brother and obliviousness of their family faintly represents what queer Indian kids go through when coming out.

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Nevertheless, films like Margarita With A Straw (2014) put in the hard work of providing visibility to non-heterosexual women with disabilities. The indie went on to become a part of Bollywood by garnering the attention of the mainstream. The film won multiple national and international awards, rewarding Shonali Bose for her multi-dimensional portrayal of a woman with a disability.

Queer bollywood
Source: Junichi Yamashita

But Ranveer Singh and Jim Sarbh’s homoerotic act in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat (2018) comes closest to obtaining a kind of legitimacy for same-sex relationships that the country has so far only seen in fringe films by Hansal Mehta (Aligarh) and Onir (My Brother Nikhil).

Of course, detractors will argue that portraying the villain as bisexual in Padmaavat doesn’t legitimise homosexuality as much as demonising it.

There will always be those who will look at mainstream cinema’s attempts to validate non-mainstream sections and relationships with suspicion and distrust. But the fact remains that Ranveer Singh playing a man who is sexually attracted to another man is a big deal in Bollywood.

Gay Bollywood Padmaavat.Indian Link
Ranveer Singh and Jim Sarbh in Padmaavat

We can now tell you that there was a lot of debate on the sets of Padmaavat as to how Sarbh should play Ranveer’s “doosri begum”, the first one being Aditi Rao. 

And then there is the tenderness between the two men. There is a sequence where Sarbh takes Ranveer’s hand and places his face in it… the tenderness and anguish of that moment is clear.

Call him by any name, but the gay lover is finally here to stay. Indeed, there is more chemistry between Ranveer and Sarbh than there is between Ranveer and his screen wife Aditi Rao.

Sridhar Rangayan.Indian Link
A still from Evening Shadows

Now that there is more “acceptance”, a forthcoming film, Surmayee Sham directed by Sridhar Rangayan, talks about a young man coming out of the closet on the eve of his marriage.

Four years ago, Fawad Khan played the role of the gay son belonging to a Delhi business family in Kapoor & Sons. 

Given a chance, would Karan Johar have cast Ranveer Singh in Fawad’s role? And more importantly, are we ready for the long-delayed queer revolution in Bollywood?

BAGESHRI SAVYASACHI with IANS reports

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