Addressing a gay issue

With the recent reports of a gay couple being approached for the next season of the reality show Bigg Boss, veteran television writer Gajra Kottary talks about the lack of an evolved portrayal of the gay community on television

Mumbai | Published: July 11, 2014 1:00 am

Except for a few instances on television of a gay couple, we have hardly heard or seen the portrayal of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in a mature manner. It is either caricaturish like the appearance of Bobby Darling in shows, or over-the-top presentation, like Maddy in Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahi.
The reason basically is because of the audience profile, as Hindi entertainment shows on television mostly caters to the middle class or the lower middle class segment. They form the major chunk of the target group and the common perception is that they won’t accept a mature or evolved approach to communities like the LGBT.
This, however doesn’t mean that we haven’t tried. A track in Maryaada…Lekin Kab Tak two-three years ago portrayed the issue of gay couples in a much more evolved way. However, we become so engrossed in telling mainstream stories that it isn’t conceivable to have subjects like these being touched upon in a mature manner in most of the cases.
Apparently, it isn’t just the fiction shows that trivialise the issue, even on reality shows like Bigg Boss, the gay participants have let themselves being portrayed comically and nothing can be sadder than that. Having said that, there have been people like transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi who have maintained grace and poise.
Apparently, it is not just on Indian television shows, but even in Indian films, we trivialise the entire issue and portray a gay character in a farcical manner. You can take the example of the song Maa da laadla in Dostana that was reduced to a light-hearted sequence in the film.
Internationally, however, the take on such issues is very mature. One apt example in this case would be the portrayal of the gay couple— Mitchell and Cam — in Modern Family. The show’s format is comical in nature, yet the way this particular couple’s story has been developed is laudable. Even in a comical situation, the storytellers have been able to put across the problems the gay couples come across— whether it is taking care of an adopted child or managing the household chores alongside relationship issues.
I also feel that besides the LGBT issue that hasn’t been portrayed maturely on television, a lot of other issues too haven’t been handled well. One of the reasons could be that we are catering to a cross section of the society, and thus we are hesitant to put across anything that is slightly progressive in nature. This is one of the problems we face when it comes to writing about basic social issues, gender issues or personal issues. Also, we hesitate to profile a character who is a career woman because of the audience that we cater to. It is far more acceptable for a man to have more than one relationship, but if a woman is shown doing the same, she is ostracised.
I strongly feel that television has to grow and that there’s still time when we could embrace all the issues and portray them in a mature and realistic manner.

As told to Priyanka Bhadani

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