Growing up as a teenage boy in Puri who is attracted to men — unlike his friends who liked girls — I often thought myself to be an aberration. Who was I? Why didn’t I like girls like everyone else? Was there anyone else like me?
In those pre-internet days, the only resources we had were magazines, newspapers, television and Bollywood movies to shape our identities. Like my peers, I loved Bollywood movies, but the only references to men who like men were caricatures ― roundly made fun of, by the ‘important’ characters of the film. Or there were transgender people and though I wasn’t trans, I often thought I was because I literally had no point of reference.
When I watched the Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan trailer today, my first reaction was ‘Oh. My. God’. Even though there were films on Netflix, short films and some stuff like that in the past few years, I had never imagined I would see a mainstream Bollywood star play a gay man in a typical ‘masala’ love story format, without too much tragic overtones.
This film, and Ayushmann Khurrana playing a gay man is significant for various reasons. As activists, even if we try our best, we often end up reaching out to either closeted queer people or other liberal people who take active interest in the queer community and are allies. Despite Pride Marches, and events and brands endorsing queerness, there seems to be a distance that exists between our community and allies and a majority of middle class India.
A Bollywood film, in the rhetoric of a typical potboiler, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan has the power to bridge that gap. I am not saying people will be immediately won over and start accepting homosexuality thanks to this film, but it could at least open up a conversation.
The trailer shows the men discussing homosexuality openly, with parents, relatives and uncles. It shows parents pressurising a gay man to get married and the latter actually considering it to avoid the constant harassment ― again, a very conflicted reality in our lives which hurt both men and women.
I especially liked the opening scene of the trailer, where this uncle is asking Khurrana, “When did you decide to become gay?”
I wanted to keep replaying that section as I have lost track of the number of times I have been asked this question and I have had no answer to. Now, I actually have a great retort thanks to the film. (Khurrana quips, “When did you decide you won’t become gay?”)
And oh my god, the kiss, I had been dying to watch a film which normalises two men kissing. It’s like the most natural thing! I mean, it’s kind of sad that a film needs to normalise it but hey, you have to work with what you got.
I wish a film like this was made, or producers like T-series came forward and made films like these when activists and lawyers were relentlessly fighting to decriminalise homosexuality. It would be so helpful for people fighting on the ground. There has been no progress in the demands we have for civil rights and marriage. I hope this film stokes that discussion again and we finally start talking about marriage and having the same rights as heterosexual married couples. I hope we start talking about rights of adoption.
I liked Kapoor and Sons (2015), but homosexuality was a plot point in the film. The community and our issues weren’t represented much. In this film, a small-town gay man, is the subject. He is the hero. It feels like the film is about a boy like me.
It’s great that it’s a comedy, but I hope it’s not too ‘comic’ and ends up caricaturing us, though. Also, I wish they actually hired an openly gay actor to play an important role in the film too, that would be a huge boost to the morale of say a young, gay boy growing up in a small Indian town, thinking he is an alien.
The writer is a designer and activist based in Raipur, Chhattisgarh.