Ayushmann Khurrana, who plays a gay protagonist in his latest Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, recently joked in a radio interview, “Let India remain regressive. My films will make her progressive.” Indeed, Khurrana’s knack for turning taboo concepts into thunderous box-office super hits — Andhadhun, Badhaai Ho, Dream Girl and Bala to cite a recent few — has made him Bollywood’s new boy wonder, one who can do no wrong.
He now teams up with his Badhaai Ho co-stars Neena Gupta and Gajraj Rao along with Bhumi Pednekar (they worked together in the highly entertaining Dum Laga Ke Haisha) for Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan the pre-release buzz to which suggests that this could be the one ‘gay film’ Bollywood has been waiting for. Sure, who wouldn’t want to see Khurrana steal hearts (the gay version, if you will as SMZS’s trailer implies) the way Shah Rukh Khan did when he pulled in a desperately-in-love Kajol onto a chugging train in DDLJ? Yet, much as Khurrana has been breaking new grounds and constantly redefining content for modern Hindi film-goers, he is not the first Bollywood star to essay a gay man on screen. Khurrana’s new release might play it for laughs, hoping to drive home the point via humour but there are plenty of Hindi films that have worked hard to showcase real and complex LGBTQ characters. If there is the wishy-washy Dostana on one hand that pops up in popular imagination thanks to ‘Maa da laadla’ that reduced what it means to be a gay couple into a stereotype, we also have Fire, I Am, Aligarh, Kapoor & Sons and the more recent, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga with Sonam Kapoor, Rajkummar Rao and Anil Kapoor throwing their weight behind a subject that was once an aberration and still is, to a large extent — surprising for a film industry that prides itself on its rich cultural diversity. But in the post-Section 377 era (it was struck down in 2018, decriminalising homosexuality) with a thriving and vibrant gay life full of pride months, LGBTQ movements, gay dating apps, inclusive workspaces, etc things may ultimately be heading towards a future that will include the rainbow. The recent spike in Bollywood’s LGBTQ content is a small but a welcome change.
So, ahead of Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (it hits screens on February 21), we have compiled a quick list of gay films you must see if you haven’t already.
1. Kapoor & Sons (2016)
In one crucial scene from the film, the mother played by Ratna Pathak Shah fails to understand how her son (Pakistani heartthrob, Fawad Khan) could be in love with another man. She has stumbled upon her son’s photos in his laptop. Her world-has-come-crashing-down reaction tells you why he couldn’t have come out in a family like the Kapoors, not even to his mother — especially, not to his mother. A well-enacted and evocative scene in a finely-made film that explores all the secrets lurking behind the Kapoor family facade.
2. Aligarh (2015)
Stark, explicit and hard-hitting, this Hansal Mehta drama goes where few Hindi movies do. Manoj Bajpayee shows his calibre by taking on such an emotionally complex character — inspired by a real-life gay teacher from Aligarh Muslim University who was forced into suspension after he was caught on camera having sex — and giving his Professor Siras the much-needed dignity and legitimacy.
3. Margarita With A Straw (2014)
Shonali Bose is one of the few openly bisexual filmmakers around. (The other being Onir). Her Margarita With A Straw stars Kalki Koechlin as Laila, a talented writer and musician suffering from cerebral palsy. Her same-sex relationship with Khanum (Sayani Gupta) forms the emotional crux of this brave love story. The film perfectly exemplifies both Laila’s sexuality and the social struggles and stigma that accompanies the queer — something the stubbornly conservative world fails to recognise. Authentic, romantic and real, this margarita is highly recommended, with or without the straw.
4. Bombay Talkies (2013)
When Dostana and Kal Ho Naa Ho (remember Kanta Ben’s shock at finding SRK and Saif Ali Khan in bed? Scandalous!) happened, Karan Johar was admonished for treating gay identity with insensitivity. But over the years, the Dharma honcho has turned a new leaf. Critics have noted a sharp evolution in his treatment of gay characters. His sensitive storytelling in the anthology Bombay Talkies certainly went a long way in having critics revise their opinion of Johar. India’s most famous filmmaker and TV host was free at last. The K Jo short tells the story of a married man (Randeep Hooda) trapped in an unhappy marriage. Enter the vivacious Avinash (Saqib Saleem) who helps him come out of the closet. In his newfound vigour, Johar goes all badass with that ultimate crowd-pleasing titillation — a passionate lip-lock between two men.
Also read: Is Bollywood finally ready for gay films? | Ayushmann Khurrana: Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan is a giant leap for Indian cinema | Ayushmann and Jitendra’s rapport was like Azharuddin and Jadeja: Gajraj Rao
5. Fire (1996)
Here’s a film that was way ahead of its time. A stormy love story between Shabana Azmi’s Radha and Nandita Das’ Sita (both are torn between tradition and freedom), Deepta Mehta’s controversial lesbian drama was met with violent protests at the time of its release. But thankfully, much has changed since then. A decade and half later, it was heartening to see Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi reenact the provocative Lihaaf in Dedh Ishqiya (2014) without much fuss. Was it that nobody cared to notice or have we, as society and audience, finally come of age?
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