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'Bigg Boss 7' steps into gay area

When two men, cuddle, touch, communicate via expressions and are happy in each other’s company, even the simple phrase ‘Pyar Ho Gaya,’ can be transformed into a telling phrase. On reality television show Bigg Boss, host and actor Salman Khan underlined his point with emphasis on the “gay” in “gaya, to imply that two housemates, both men, are involved.


Bold new world: A screen grab of one of the scenes from Bigg Boss that shows Andy and Sangram getting up close

That would not matter in itself, except that Khan giggled, and matters were made worse with the addition of canned laughter in the background. Gay voices on social networking sites have opined that Khan was insensitive with the topic.

Khan-ned laughter
A compilation of scenes between the two men, VJ Andy and wrestler Sangram Singh, was aired on the show and Khan was seen laughing at them. The video went viral on the Internet with several people from the gay community saying that a superstar like Salman should have been more careful as this shows him to be anti-gay. The video contains several scenes of Andy and Sangram touching each other, cuddling and talking, and, to hammer home the point, ends with Andy pressing Sangram’s thighs.

Television is not entirely a stranger to gay themes and characters, but never in the non-fiction dimension. Top-billed serials have shown gay sub-plots, and not just the caricatural representation of Bobby Darling in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. There have also been serious gay interactions between two male characters in the television show Maryada... Lekin Kab Tak -- but that was fiction.

A non-fiction first
Bigg Boss is not fiction, and shows what really happens -- or at least, that is the claim. Hence it is for the first time that a gay relationship is being portrayed on a non-fiction TV show. Salman Khan introduces the proceedings rather heavy-handedly, holding two playing cards in either hand -- one the king and the other, the queen. He sings the popular Hindi song “Raja ko rani se pyar ho gaya” and replaces the queen with another king, changing the lyrics to sing “Raja ko raja se pyar ho gaya”, this time with extra emphasis on the word Gay. He also laughs, and this has not gone down well with the gay audience.

While many people liked the video, which showed the ‘bromance’ between the housemates, many commented that Salman’s laughter and mockery was disgraceful.

Sibi M, the admin of a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Facebook page, who shared the video, said, “While the video looked cute, I wish I could the say the same about Salman’s introduction to it. His mocking and laughing was disgraceful and smacked of the homophobic jibes which we have worked so hard to stop. Today when stars like Hrithik and Imraan Khan have openly come out to support and help acceptance of gay people, Salman’s actions have hurt us a lot.”

No sensitivity
An underlying apprehension is also that Khan’s fans may imitate his behaviour, and that ridicule and mockery of gay people and relationships may rise. Vishesh Joshi, another person from the community, said, “I agree with Sibi that the audiovisual of the two boys is done well, but I found the introduction sad. ‘Pyar ho “gay”a’ -- seriously? Where is the sensitivity towards minorities? Worldwide, contestants have been homophobic -- but a host being homophobic?!”

Hate messages
On Facebook where the video has been posted, many hate messages directed towards the actor were posted. One such message was by Harrish Iyer, who posted, “From wild animal slaughter to woman beating to running over pavement dwellers to ridiculing sexual minorities... all was a media conspiracy. Yes, Salman, it was never ever your fault. We believe you.”

A similar message was posted by Silv, who said, “This is highly ridiculous; if public figures start making fun of having a gay relationship on national TV, how will things improve? I personally always disliked Salman but now I see him as the most insensitive person and insensible as well. Was this the last option the television channel had to make fun of?”

While there has been hatred towards the actor, the showcasing of a ‘bromance’ on television, that too in reality, has surprised many. A person from the LGBT community who didn’t wish to be named said, “While the video is very good, the bromance has been portrayed very nicely too. The spoiler is Salman’s comment, that shows his sick mentality. We expect more such videos are shown, but not with jokes like the one Salman made about the gay community.”

In television advertising too
In May this year, this paper ran a piece about how Fastrack, a youth-centric brand of watches and eyewear, may have started to redefine the advertising paradigm with its lesbian-themed advertisement running on TV since the beginning of April.

This ad film begins with a shot of a pink closet. The closet opens and a girl emerges from it, checking the time on her Fastrack watch. Another girl follows her. They give each other the eye, adjust their attire and then walk off in opposite directions. Then comes the tag line: ‘Come Out of the Closet. Move On.’

Arun Iyer, National Creative Director, Lowe-Lintas creative agency for this advertisement, when asked whether this ‘pridevertisement’ would in fact, be a trailblazer for Indian advertising, and whether the time has come for gay-themed advertising said, “It should be part of the business/industry. It does influence people’s thoughts and they can only get more progressive.”

One comment by an M Scindia on the Internet in response to the ad read, “Finally, a queer ad in INDIA (commenter’s emphasis). Am so happy I could cry.”

For good or bad?
In the popular television serial, Bade Achche Lagte Hain, the gay theme is touched upon but there are shades of what may be construed as homophobia woven within the script. In the serial, Neha (the mother) is tense as she suspects her geeky son Sammy is gay. Though there are conciliatory statements from characters about accepting their children whatever they may be, the mom heaves a sigh of relief once she learns that her son is heterosexual. While the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community may despair of the tired old cliche of relief at the thought of being straight, and term it as homophobic, there are others who say that the mere fact that a TV show is touching upon a gay theme, proves that TV is on its way towards full fledged gay-themed programming.

Helpline Launched
A new 24x7 helpline has been started to address questions and concerns of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and Transgenders (TG). The helpline, which started this month, provides information and counselling. The Sahaay Helpline can be accessed by dialling the toll-free number 1800-2000-113.

The helpline is currently functional in Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Maharashtra. Dr Ashok Agarwal, Project Director, Sahaay Project says, “It has been customized into the helpline to ensure caller confidentiality and identity, a prime concern amongst the people which the helpline aims to reach out to. The caller is also not asked personal identifiers like name, address and telephone number.”

The study is being conducted by FHI360 (an international NGO) with approval from Department of AIDS Control, Government of India. The project is being carried out along with The Humsafar Trust and three other CBOs in Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Maharashtra.

For more information, email sahaayonline@gmail.com or connect on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Sahaay.HelplineĀ 

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