Textually Yours

How queer!

Posted in India, phillum by arpitaincuba on January 26, 2009

Dostana premiered on Thursday. It was a marketing tactic that would enable the verdict to travel “word-of-mouth.” And it was successful. The film was a “blockbuster hit,” and people would not stop talking about it.

I enjoyed it. It was a slap stick comedy with sometimes witty come backs, and ridiculous parodies of other Indian films. However, what I was fascinated by was this “word-of-mouth.” Here was a mainstream film, with the top-notch industry heros,  who were PRETENDING to be gay. As a consequence, the film had several annoying homophobic moments. But it did something else. It brought queerness out into the open. Middle class India was now talking about alternate sexualites.

My mother, on the phone from India, could not believe how many conversations she had about queerness, and homophobia since the release of this film. Yes, the conversations are more about how Abhishek Bachchan was hilarious in the film, but there was  also a discussion about alternative sexualites. Conversations about queer sexualities in the public domain is BIG. I say it is big because growing up in middle class India, in a city like Lucknow, I had no conversations about queerness till I was in my mid teens. We don’t talk about such issues. But now we are! What a BIG small step.

Amulya Gopalakrishnan, writing for The Indian Express, words this perfectly:

And the most enormous change is that Dostana names the unsaid, replaces ambiguities and evasions with the power of public utterance — it confronts wide and various audiences with ostensibly gay characters. And who knows, perhaps laughter and cheesy uplift can subtly wedge the door open in ways that a serious, p.c., full frontal take in non-mainstream movies like My Brother Nikhil may not manage. Dostana might not be the great leap forward for gay mainstreaming, but perhaps, picture abhi baaki hai.

5 Responses

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  1. Shah said, on January 26, 2009 at 12:51 pm

    Hmm…interesting observations. I dont think this is very different from 10 years ago where conversations about queerness were heavily splashed with homophobic humor (I’m thinking high school). This may be a big small step, but its a small step to nothing — if anyone chose to come out of the closet, or even speak in defense of gay rights, i doubt this movie has done anything to make life easier for them or garner them more support.

    • arpitaincuba said, on January 26, 2009 at 3:36 pm

      I completely disagree. It is not a small step to nothing. The key point here is public versus private. High school humor in the private domain of your friends is never going to have the same impact as a mainstream film that highlights alternate sexualities. I have already stated how annoying the humor and homophobia is but the relevance is in the fact that it is mainstream.

  2. Karmasutraz said, on January 26, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    I agree with Shah. I do think that the way homosexuality has been treated in any mainstream Hindi film for that matter has not been utterly respectful. People talking, and condemning queerness in the same tone doesn’t do wonders to the cause. The negativity and the sick humor cancels out any efforts of the mainstream cinema to bring queerness to the forefront.

  3. Carlos said, on January 28, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I have not seen the movies, but I am really interested in seeing Dostana… sounds like one of those cultural objects that inhabit that thin dangerous line between puting out in the open a silenced reality and the exploitation of it for the distraction of straight exotizing gazes… having a male superstar move people into laughter by portraying a high pitched queer, maybe?

  4. jcglobetrotter said, on February 7, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    The movie was funny, and yes it raised the topic of homosexuality in several conversations around the country- however, I don’t necessarily agree that it is a positive step forward. If you consider the film as it should be- a silly slapstick comedy- then, it’s great. if you try and dig deeper into it, it is harmful in the sense that it stereotypes gay people as being flamboyantly feminine – I’m thinking specifically of john Abraham’s and Boman irani’s characters. The thing is, if you’re going to raise this issue, then do it sensistively and positively, in a way that will properly educate the masses. If you’re trying to reahc the average tapori, then this film did more harm than good because it portrayed gay people negatively, I think. they didn’t get the respect that they deserve.
    But then this raises an ever bigger question, is it better to raise the issue incorrectly, or just not do it at all?
    On the subject of this movie though, I don’t think that it did anything to advance the understanding or acceptance of homosexuality… rather, i think the fact that it was mainstream proved to be even more harmful than anything.
    that’s why, enjoying it as exactly what it is- a silly, nonsensical comedy- is essential.

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