172pp, rupee. 695; Atlantic Ocean

Every Bollywood release featuring homosexual heroes is sold as the first film of its kind to break the silence about homosexuality in India. While this approach fosters excitement, it hides a long history of Hindi films depicting same-sex relationships, homophobia and the appearance of people marginalized in society because of their sexual orientation. While activism and lawsuits have been at the forefront of the fight for the Supreme Court’s reading of section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, Bollywood films have also played an important role in broadening the discourse on the rights of homosexuals in India.

A new book by Himadri Roy Coil and Real: Portrait of Gays in Bollywood Films tries to capture many of these films. Eight of them will be discussed in detail: My brother Nihil (2005), Emotional Yours (2006), Dostanya (2008) Fashion (2008), Panh (2010), Dunno Ya Na Jaan Kyung (2010), Ya Omar (2011) and Bombay Talk (2013). The author makes an important contribution to public education on the rise of popular culture and the development of basic organisations and university scholarships. He teaches at the Indira Gandhi National Open School of Gender and Development Studies.

Does the growing visibility of Bollywood films ensure respect for homosexuals in India? How many of these films are used by gay men to give a heterosexual script a comic topography? Are homosexual men portrayed as devils or as people who have the right to exist on their own terms? Do drivers reduce them to their sexual orientation or do they investigate many aspects of their personality? How often is love, warmth and self-realization? Are viewers invited to empathize with them, to despise them or just to feel sorry for them? Roy makes readers think about these questions as they go through the ten chapters of his book.

Before going into the details of how economic liberalization has created more space for the portrayal of homosexuals, Roy looks at the trophies of homo-eroticism and bromance in Bollywood films. Examples are Dilip Kumar and Nasir Khan in Ganga Jamun (1961), Shammi Kapoor and Anup Kumar in the Jungle (1961), Feroz Khan and Rajendra Kumar in Arzoo (1965).), Rajesh Khanna and Sujit Kumar in Aradhan (1969), Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra in Sholaya (1975), Akshai Kumar and Saif Ali Khan in Main Hiladi Tu Anari (1994). He also documents several cases of people apparently dressed heterosexually in Polubilet (1962), Kismat (1968), Rafu Chakkar (1975), Lavaris (1981), Halnayak (1993), Andaz apna apna (1994), Baazi (1995) and others.

This context helps the reader to understand that Bollywood’s popular film Shubh Mangal Zeda Saavdhan (2020) did not escape control. He stands on the shoulders of his predecessors who, in a more conservative era, represented homosexuals on the screen. Moreover, the kiss between Ayushman Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar was not the first expression of sexual intimacy between two gay men in a Hindi film. Roy’s book contains many links for readers who love old Bollywood films such as Page 3 (2005), Road Signal (2007), Subway Life (2007), Honeymoon Travels Pvt.), Honeymoon Travels, Happy Tracks, Happy Tracks, Happy Tracks, Happy Tracks, Happy Tracks. (2007). Although Bombay Boys (1998) and Mango Souffle (2002) were filmed in English, there were actors who had worked in Hindi-language films.

This book began to take shape in Roy’s mind when he took a certificate film evaluation course at the Indian Habitat Centre in New Delhi. He was taught by Richard Allen, a scientist who writes about film theory and was very involved in Indian cinema. These sessions provided Roy with intellectual tools to analyse the films he was watching, and discussions with his classmates encouraged him to consider unusual films as a genre in their own right. The journey to write this book began in 2012 and ended in 2017.

In the foreword, Roy writes: The whole gay survival policy was already on the verge of murder, suicide, NGO raids and several cases of blackmail that attracted media attention. This news worried me a lot and I decided to work on the representation of the community in the media, especially in the cinema. Although the book devotes several pages to commenting on the precarious legal status of sexuality, privacy and homosexual identity, it makes only a superficial reference to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Navtey Singh Johar v. in 2018. Union of India. This is really surprising because the book was published in 2020 and the author had time to update his research.

Big Bramans: Darmendra and Amitabh Bakhchan in Shola.

Roy is commendable for openly acknowledging the limited scope of his investigation. In the end, he decided not to use a generic term as a gay film because he does not claim to speak for the full range of LGBTQIA+ identifications. I’ve focused on gay and bisexual people… On behalf of the company all attention is paid to gays, he writes. People who identify themselves as lesbian, hijra, koti, panti, transgender, homosexual, intersexual, non-binary, asexual or sexual have their own problems and deserve to be studied further.

Author Himadri Roy
photo courtesy of https://ignou.academia.edu/HimadriRoy

The book would have been richer if Roy had used theoretical foundations rooted in the living homosexual experience in India instead of relying on the work of American scientists such as Vito Russo and Eva Kosofsky Sedgwick. His book would also benefit from a more thorough editorial process. The sharpness of his arguments is sometimes blurred by repetition and wandering. What makes this book interesting to read is Roy’s frank discussion about the sexual abuse of homosexuals in a heterogeneous society, especially by the police, who should be the defender of the law. Attention is also paid to issues such as flirting, ephemophobia, mental health problems, promiscuity, parental violence, sex work and the stigma of AIDS – all over the world.

Chintan Girish Modi is a writer, teacher and researcher. He is @chintan_connect on Twitter.