A queer song and dance
Tu Khawb Saja, India's first gay musical, deals with what it really means to be homosexual
We meet Vinay Aarote on a cool, breezy Wednesday morning at a coffee shop on Carter Road, Bandra. Dressed in a green T-shirt with denims and heeled sandals, the 21-year-old was in the news last October for being physically assaulted along with a friend for ‘dressing and talking like a gay person’ by strangers in Khar.
Abhijit Thakur will star in the musical. Pic/Raj Pandey
Despite the traumatic experience, Aarote’s love for the city stands unblemished. “When it comes to understanding the plight of being gay in a country that criminalises homosexuality, Mumbai is far better than other cities,” says the Navi Mumbai resident who works as a social media manager with an automotive website. Which is why, Aarote along with 25 other men, will stage the country’s first gay musical on January 26 at IIT Powai.
Vinay Aarote. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Titled Tu Khawb Saja, the 60-minute long musical is the story of a young man, Om who has to leave the house for being different. Taking refuge with a kind, old musician, he goes on to become a talented singer. However, in the process, the two men develop a bond that goes beyond a teacher-student relationship. “Most people associate homosexuality with sex and promiscuity. But that’s not true. Gay men can have real, committed relationships,” he says. Love, he adds, is what is the musical is about. “But there is no physical intimacy in the act, because, who knows, it might just invite a ban,” he jokes.
Aarote, who is part of the creative as well as the logistics team, came out of the closet two years ago. Coming from a conservative Maharashtrian family, it took his parents two years to accept it. “Initially, my mother thought it was because I used to hang out a lot with my older sister and her friends that I was attracted to men,” he laughs. That many consider it to be a ‘phase’ is one of the misconceptions that the musical hopes to bust, along with the perception that gay men are effeminate. “Just like everyone else, gay men have both masculine and feminine traits,” says Aarote. The musical features gay men, transmen and transwomen, but not lesbians. “We tried to get women on board, but they were not open to it. Being a patriarchal society, the tendency to judge women is far greater than men.”
The musical was first staged by Gay Bombay last September at Saathe College in Vile Parle East. It was a low-key affair, largely restricted to members from the gay community. But watching the overwhelming response from the audience, Saathi, the LGBT community of IIT Powai, approached the crew to perform again. “The musical is about universal issues like gay men in forced marriages, finding true love and hardships that gay couples face,” says Sachin Jain, a member of the production team and narrator of the show. Jain’s Bandra residence served as a rehearsal venue for the team as getting permission to practice for a ‘gay’ play at a hall or auditorium would be challenging.
Jain, a Spanish translator, feels the biggest problem that the community faces is not homophobia, but lack of visibility. “If we want section 377 repealed, we need support from the majority,” says Jain. This is also the reason for choosing a Bollywood-style Hindi musical. “People in India love song and dance. This is the best way to reach out to them.”
Where: PC Saxena Hall, IIT Bombay, Powai
When: 7 PM – 9 PM