From taking on homosexual roles to appearing in condom commercials, stars seem to be finally losing their inhibitions...
Are Bollywood actors and films breaking free of the prudish tag? Be it depiction of sex, celebs endorsing condoms or portrayal of homosexuality, stars — and films — today seem to be more open to dealing with bolder subjects than earlier. hitlist examines the phenomenon...
Ranveer Singh's decision to endorse a condom has met with an encouraging response
LAST December, when the Supreme Court passed its judgment on Section 377 recriminalising homosexuality, it created a lot of furore in the country’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. At the time, many Bollywood celebrities showed their displeasure over the SC’s decision as they chose to back the LGBT community.
Randeep Hooda and Saqib Saleem share a kiss in 'Bombay Talkies'
What’s interesting is that B-town celebs aren’t just voicing their opinions in support of homosexuality. Filmmakers today are opening up to the idea of dwelling on plots surrounding same-sex love. For instance, last year’s Karan Johar film, Bombay Talkies, showed two leading men lock lips on screen for the first time. The trend seems to continue this year with many other filmmakers following suit.
Monica Dogra feels that people's thinking in the industry is progressive
For one, Hansal Mehta’s untitled film, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, is based on the lives of a gay couple. Monica Dogra too has played a lesbian character in the short film, Relapse, that stars swimmer-and-artiste-turned-androgynous-model, Casey Legler.
Apart from these two films, Ekta Kapoor is all set to adapt William Shakespeare’s famous play, Romeo Juliet, in Hindi. However, her take will revolve around the love story between two men, Romil and Juggal.
Sexuality not an issue
Clearly, filmmakers are no longer reluctant to deal with supposedly taboo subjects such as homosexuality. Saqib Saleem, who played a young gay journalist in K Jo’s Bombay Talkies and even had a kissing scene with co-star, Randeep Hooda, says, “ I don’t think it is a taboo anymore. For an actor, the most important thing is to do as many different characters as possible. A character’s sexuality shouldn’t influence his or her decision to star in the film. At the end of the day, it’s just another role; and our profession is called acting for a reason.”
Juhi Chawla and Sanjay Suri in the film, 'My Brother... Nikhil', which dealt with AIDS awareness
Filmmaker Danish Aslam chimes in that the industry has accepted bold scenes and films about homosexuality. “Dostana was not exactly based on gay love, but this commercially successful film shed some light on the issue. After all, films hold a mirror to the society; so even as the society undergoes changes, the content in films too will change. Even in the West, legalising gay marriages has not been easy; they too have had just a few films based on the LGBT community,” he says.
Not shying away
Aslam is also hopeful that the younger generation will take up bolder roles now. “No actor dared to do a condom ad until recently, but Ranveer Singh has changed that. Today, a new crop of actors is ready to take on challenges and if a director has a decent story to tell, they won’t reject the role. Where my film is concerned, Ekta is already on board and the script was also ready. Moreover, I didn’t face any difficulties since I am casting rank newcomers in the film,” says the director.
Meanwhile, actress Eesha Kopphikar, who played a lesbian in the film, Girlfriend, says that playing a homosexual was never a taboo from an actor’s standpoint. “Earlier, the bone of contention was the stereotypical depiction of sex and homosexual characters in an offensive way. But in recent times, films have been portraying such characters in a responsible manner. This is why actors are no longer hesitant to do these roles,” she says.
However, Onir, who has directed films such as I Am and My Brother... Nikhil, feels that industry still has a long way to go as far as accepting homosexual characters is concerned. “A lot of directors make short films, but it is not easy to make a full-fledged Bollywood film about the subject (homosexuality). Moreover, these films star and are helmed by the so-called ‘offbeat actors and directors’. Besides, big studios are still not willing to come forward and back projects dealing with such issues,” he says.
Onir points out that even if someone manages to release these films, TV channels don’t show any interest in purchasing their satellite rights. “Actors starring in mainstream cinema go into a panic mode if they realise that their role has homosexual undertones. This is why I have now decided to do films which bear no relation to gay or lesbian issues,” he says.
He reiterates his point by saying that a lot of known actors refused his films earlier as they were not ready to play gays or lesbians. “Actors like Nawaz, Monica Dogra, Irrfan and Sanjay Suri are not your typical Bollywood actors. Not worried about their image, they are ready to experiment. Even when you speak of directors, Hansal and I are not exactly known as purveyors of commercial cinema. Whenever a commercial face tries to do something different, he/she draws flak for it. Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi starred in Fire and they faced a public backlash,” he says.
Monica Dogra agrees with Onir when she says that Bollywood films are not progressive. “Extra-marital affairs and divorce are a reality within the industry now. So while people’s thinking is progressive, the same can’t be said of the films being made in Bollywood. When it comes to our work, the film industry is left wanting.”