Queer feminist activist
In the trajectory of films from Hindi cinema,Bombay Talkies has portrayed the subject of homosexuality in a better manner than other films. For me,it was a fun film to watch. To address sexuality,we need to look at it in perspective. In a way,the film is interesting as it deals with subjects not spoken about usually. At some level,Karan Johars segment was also more about Rani Mukherjees coming of age. I feel I can write my Phd thesis on Bombay Talkies.
When you have something new,there will always be analytical overtones to it. So there are different ways of interpreting the film. But one cannot say that Bollywood has come of age with its depiction of sexuality through this film.
That said,I feel that Bollywood is often open to talking about anything that will sell. But not many are willing to experiment with such taboo themes. Bollywoods earlier depiction of homosexual relationships used to be laden with stereotyping. But humour can be a good way to look at things. When there is humour,you look at uncomfortable subjects. For instance,in Dostana,Kirron Kher has resigned herself to her fate that her son is gay. In Student of the Year,Rishi Kapoors character was a total caricature of gay community. And Kal Ho Na Hos Kanta Ben act cannot be taken seriously.
But we should also not take films shown by Bollywood so seriously. So when I watched Bombay Talkies,I did not expect to come back with a deeper understanding of homosexuality. We should be able to get over our obsession about Bollywood and look at regional cinema.
My only complaint with the current portrayal of homosexuality is how we obsesses about mens sexuality in cinema. Why dont we make a film about womens sexuality? It would be interesting to see if we can do that with women more often. But overall,I am glad Karan Johar made this film.
When I made My Brother Nikhil,which was one of the earlier mainstream Hindi films where the protagonist is gay,the distributors refused to release the film until Karan Johar saw it and went all out to help me get it released. In I Am…,the two male co-stars shared a kiss on screen but I was forced to delete it for satellite release so the film could receive a U/A rating. However,till date,the film has not seen a satellite TV release.
Up until recently,most Hindi films stereotyped gay characters and made them appear gimmicky. In a country where homophobia exists,the filmmakers treat homosexuals as people you can laugh at. For example,two guys holding hands is viewed as being gay in cinema,but that is a regressive portrayal. In fact,not only gays,Hindi cinema does that many times to portrayal of women also. May be,regional cinema,shows more content that is treated ethically,because the market economics of that style of cinema differs. In Hindi mainstream cinema,it is all about where a film comes from. For instance,I Am… hasnt got a satellite release because it did not have a big studio behind it. On the other hand,Bombay Talkies,which has a big ticket producer and star cast,has far greater chances for a satellite release.
The main problem that prevents filmmakers from making such cinema is the economics. The minute you make a film on a provocative subject,financiers cant handle it. It challenges viewers. But you cannot make the audience receptive to such films overnight. Most of Hindi mainstream cinema does not treat mature and sensitive themes with a level of frankness they deserve. That sends wrong signals to society. If a theme cannot be depicted with the sensitivity it deserves,filmmakers should not ratify such films for the sake of economics.
(Debate conducted by Debesh Banerjee)