Since the very beginning of Bollywood, LGBT characters have rarely taken the center stage. The few times that we’ve seen LGBT characters in Bollywood, it has been for poor comedic relief at their expense. It is degrading and homophobic content in the name of humour. The character of a gay man is used only as someone who’s out to convert straight men, help women with their fashion or just as a caricature of femininity. Gay is often correlated with feminine qualities so much so that homophobic slurs are used for a man who isn’t ‘manly enough’.
The most prominent examples of misrepresentation have been in movies like Dostana, where two straight men were portrayed as feminine and gay for cheap laughs. The song ‘maa ka laadla bigad gaya‘ was used again to show the shock and utter disgust of a mother who believes her son to be gay. Even in iconic Hindi movies such as Kal Ho Na Ho, the only purpose of Kanta bai was to show her disgust and shock over the slight insinuation that Saif Ali Khan’s character was gay. Bollywood has failed the LGBT community time and again with wrong stereotypes and offensive portrayals.
They’re offered the same old jobs like dance teachers, fashion designers or assistants. Gay characters are stereotyped by the industry so often that the image of the LGBT community has been tainted in society. Abhishek Bachchan has done yet another role in the movie Bol Bachchan where he played a gay alter ego. A dance teacher who moves with swaying movements and hand gestures or talks suggestively.
However, Bollywood has been learning from its mistakes and heavy criticism. As LGBT voices grow stronger Bollywood too has changed its tune. The best portrayal has been Karan, an openly gay wedding planner who isn’t portrayed as feminine or unnecessarily comical in the drama series ‘Made in Heaven. He has real-life, real problems and close friendships. The show went on to win awards at international festivals and its success has opened Indian viewers to a decent, respectful and real representation.
Movies like Kapoor and sons also paved the way for more decent gay characters and storylines in Bollywood. Fawad Khan played a closeted gay man who lies to his family in India about being straight while maintaining a relationship abroad. The movie showed a complex character whose storyline didn’t revolve around his sexuality. He had problems, depth and no grand scene was made around his coming out.
In the sea of Bollywood movies with gay characters, only a chosen few stand out as correct or decent representations. Bollywood has a long way to go before we can have a normal love story between two people of the same sex without making the whole story about their sexuality.