Ayushmann Khurrana's 'Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan' is an important film for India. But it isn't the first time that Bollywood stepped out of the closet.
“Main Khullam khulla aaj yeh izhar karta hoon…. aadmi hoon aadmi se pyaar karta hoon..”
It is a sign of evolution in Indian cinema when a popular actor and a household name like Ayushmann Khurrana openly declares his love in a popular 80s track, ‘Pyaar bina chain kaha re’.
Sporting a sparkling top with shiny bell-bottoms, the remixed song is a part of his upcoming film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. The film is a progressive attempt towards addressing homophobia and raising awareness on same-sex love.
Indian cinema has produced several productions revolving around the LGBTQ+ community in the past, but a majority of them have been niche, reaching a small segment of the population.
But what makes Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan significant is its attempt at bridging the gap between society and the queer community with the casting of a mainstream actor! The trailer strikes the right chord with reality where the protagonists normalise homosexuality for parents and relatives, who, in turn, dismiss same-sex love as a ‘disease’.
Here are six other Bollywood films that have portrayed homosexuality realistically:
1. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019)
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga comes off as a quintessential love story packed with songs, dances, one lead actor and one lead actress set in a small town of Punjab. There is melodrama in the house as the family is convinced that Sweety (Sonam Kapoor) is in love with a Muslim guy (Rajkummar Rao).
The twist unfurls when Sweety confesses that the real ‘siyyapa’ is that is she is in love with a girl.
What follows is Sweety fighting the taboo to break society’s shackles.
Along the way, the narrative highlights the emotional trauma, including alienation, loneliness, and shame that the queer community goes through for coming out of the closet.
Hats off to the filmmakers for choosing to portray a lesbian love story in mainstream cinema, something that is rare for the silver screen.
2. Aligarh (2016)
Professor Ramchandra Siras of Aligarh Muslim University was suspended after he was caught having consensual sex with a rickshaw puller. He filed a case in the Allahabad High Court in 2010 against the suspension and won. However, days after the court verdict, he died.
Based on this true story, director Hansal Mehta came up with Aligarh in 2016, starring Manoj Bajpayee as professor Siras, and Rajkummar Rao, a journalist who brings out the professor’s story.
The film explores the ruthless discrimination in society, and what it means to be queer. It has no larger-than-life dialogues or dramatic scenes, and yet, it manages to gauge the audience with occasional silences, and a constant emphasis on how labelling everything is not necessary.
3. Margarita With A Straw (2014)
Directed by Shonali Bose, Margarita With A Straw portrays the efforts of a woman at exploring her sexual identity.
The film revolves around Laila (Kalki Koechlin), an Indian woman with cerebral palsy, who falls in love with a blind Pakistani girl (Sayani Gupta). Laila is an unapologetic teenager who refuses to be ashamed about her condition and does not accept an award for it.
She shares a close relationship with her mother so much so that she lectures her mother for invading her privacy while she is watching porn. At one point in the movie, she also confesses that she is a ‘bi’ to her mother.
Laila’s journey from being a protected teenager in Delhi to a liberated woman in New York, discovering her sexual orientation is what makes this worth a watch.
4. Bombay Talkies (2013)
After including glimpses of homosexuality in Dostana, Student of The Year and Kapoor and Sons, Karan Johar’s short in Bombay Talkies is a brilliant effort at mirroring the reality of our society. Innumerable people are trapped in loveless marriages, living in the closet, as homosexuality is forbidden in India.
The short film stars Randeep Hooda who plays husband to Rani Mukerji. A meeting between Randeep and Saqib Saleem instantly sparks an attraction between the two who find excuses to bond with each other. The sexual tension between them eventually leads to a kissing scene post which Randeep, a middle-aged man, is left with confusion and angst.
Mukerji eventually discovers his sexual orientation and ends their marriage.
It is notable to see how Randeep, like most of the closeted people, tries to save the marriage either out of fear or society’s inability to accept homosexuality.
5. My Brother Nikhil (2005)
Set in Goa in the late-90s, My Brother Nikhil, directed by Onir, is inspired by a real-life story. Featuring Juhi Chawla (Anu), Sanjay Suri (Nikhil) and Nigel (Purab Kohli), it addresses AIDS and homosexuality in a very dignified way.
Swimming champion Nikhil is diagnosed with HIV (not because he is in a relationship with a man). On finding that he is gay and HIV positive, an array of insults follow from his parents and friends. His sister Anu and lover Nigel are the only two people who support him.
The narration deserves a special mention, which normalises a gay relationship, where the two partners fight, cry, laugh and even express jealousy. Laced with occasional humour, heart-wrenching scenes, and terrific performances, this film is relevant today.
6. Fire (1996)
Deepa Mehta’s Fire was way ahead of its time by exploring a relationship between two married women, “People hadn’t seen such a film — sadly, in these 20 years, hardly any films have been made on same-sex relationships. For India, it is definitely a landmark film,” Nandita Das tells Indian Express.
The Indo-Canadian drama starring Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi was opposed vehemently across the country. Several shows were disrupted and movie theatres vandalised. Finally, after an uproar from feminist organisations, the film ran without any trouble.
The story revolves around Sita (Das) and Radha (Azmi) whose husbands choose celibacy or mistresses over their wives. This leads them to form an intimate, passionate relationship amidst a close-minded society.
The intricately woven scenes showcase how subjugated women in a patriarchal society find solace in each other and eventually develop a physical relationship. The film also comments on the suppression of female sexuality where women are no more than objects to satisfy their male counterparts.
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)