Gay characters in Bollywood are a rare breed to find. Swamped with the same old concepts and repetitive plotlines, Bollywood hasn't really seen a lot of growth when it comes to its characters or storylines.
Considering that we as a society have accustomized ourselves to the standard concepts of Bollywood, it only makes sense why the scene has stayed the same. Every year the box office makes about 5009.43 Cr, which signals that the content being consumed is largely appreciated.
One similarity in most of these movies is the representation of queer characters or lack thereof. But the tones almost always remain the same. Homophobic, used for comedic punchlines or as side characters to thicken the plot. It has been a long time for the scene to change though, with sec.377 being struck down and other advancements in queer circles.
This year itself, we finally got to see a mainstream Bollywood movie entirely based on lesbian characters that take the forefront. "Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga" featuring Sonam Kapoor and Anil Kapoor was a revolutionary start for mainstream cinema to bring queerness into the centre focus.
But this movie wasn't the first time appearance of gay characters in Bollywood. There have been several other movies that have had side characters that were on the queer spectrum. The issue with those characters though, was that they were either overly stereotypes or poorly portrayed.
Gay Characters In Bollywood And The Issues With Their Representation
Dostana was perhaps the first movie that entirely based its plot on the existence of gay characters. But the distasteful portrayal is what makes it problematic. Though a product of its time, the movie has had its fair share of disapproval.
To begin with, the characters were only "pretending to be gay" - so it depended on crass stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community, and didn't exactly have any reliable or realistic elements. Feminine, loud and touchy aren't exactly the only traits that define gay people. To add to that, the only real gay character in the movie - Murli, played by Boman Irani - was shown as a sexual predator who has no boundaries. Another thing that hasn't sat well with the community is the song "Ma Da Ladla" that associated being queer as "bighadna" or being "rotten."
Almost everyone's classic favourite, Kal Ho Na Ho also served us a side of homophobia. Kanta Ben's reaction to the very thought that Aman and Rahul were gay got everyone laughing, till we grew up and realized that the underlying homophobia isn't something to laugh at.
The one movie that actually did a brilliant job of handling gay characters was "Kapoor & Sons." Fawad Khan's portrayal of the role added to its authenticity. He played a gay man in a relationship, to which his parents are unaware. When his mom finds out that he is, in fact, gay, the reaction that follows pretty much concludes the realities. While many pointed out issues such as - the character being gay was only to further the plot and of no other representational use.
That may ring true with a large number of people, but the fact remains that it was all done tastefully without the help of stereotypes or over the top acting. It was a normal life, a normal family life and a normal portrayal of the character's sexuality. So we can hand it to the team for keeping it real and absolutely not over the top or unrealistic.
But when we look at all these movies and more, we see one common theme - the use of sexuality to either further the plot or to make it "funny." That's the central issue - for decades, moviemakers have used homosexuality as a punchline time and again and still continue to do so. (Housefull 4, for example, was riddled with homophobic jokes, as usual.)
It also depends heavily on reinforcing stereotypes to drive the point home - as though gay people have to be ingrained as "different" or "quirky" to be acknowledged as people. This mix of stereotyping and making fun of the community is why there hasn't been a lot of open representation in the industry.
Another key issue is that gay characters in Bollywood are usually played by straight men - so the entire point is lost there. For example, when Akshay Kumar chose to star in a movie as a trans woman, that role could have easily been given to any trans person. In essence, the long history of bad characterization of LGBTQ+ characters doesn't seem to be pushed away yet.
Though we can appreciate the small number of creators and actors for taking the initiative to create better roles and trying to use accurate representation, we can still hope that there is more development on that front. The bigger question is - is it fair to ignore or poorly represent an entire community just for a few laughs?