I have found someone who is my soulmate. I believe everyone should have the freedom to be with whoever they decide they want to be with. ….in future, I would like to settle down with her,” announced current sprint queen Dutee Chand. Even as her recent gold medal haul in the women’s 200 metre event at the 59th National Open Athletics Championships needed her to have nerves of steel, her announcement, too, needed immense courage in a highly conservative society like India where homophobia or same-sex relationship is an absolute taboo subject.
Dutee had the courage to announce, but her family didn’t accept it and promptly disowned her. Majority of the families don’t accept such announcements, despite the recent decriminalisation of Article 377. And we will soon be entering the third decade of the 21st century, still the anathema towards the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) is strongly prevailing. The media is playing a huge role in making society change the archaic mindset.
Print media was already there but what is refreshing is that now we have films, television, digital platforms tackling these subjects and getting a good audience for these stories. Earlier, their representation on screen was either a comic, ridicule or a very negative role. Things very slowly started changing when director Mani Ratnam, in his film Bombay (1995), brought in a real transgender to act in a very positive way by protecting a kid from rioters until his parents arrived. Fleeting though that role might have been, it was the first attempt to humanise transgender. It was almost forgotten. Then suddenly, the LGBTQ subject started making a cut in the mainstream. In the last couple of years, we had films like Bombay Talkies (2013), Margarita With A Straw (2014), Aligarh (2015), Dear Dad and Kapoor & Sons (all 2016), and the hit Ek Ladaki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019). These films were made in quick succession.
The films preceding these were hardly any. In 1998, the film Fire directed by award-winning director Deepa Mehta faced the wrath of so-called activists.
Though the film had a very subtle hint of same-sex relationship between Radha, essayed by Shabana Azmi and Sita, played by Nandita Das, there was a huge hue and cry and after a couple of weeks, the film had to be withdrawn for some time.
The next film on the subject of same sex was My Brother Nikhil (2005). And surprisingly, within a gap of nine years, there was a subtle change in audience behaviour and the film was accepted.
“Digital platforms and web series by big production houses are doing a lot of stories which have got a very good response,’’ says Mohnish Malhotra whose debut directorial venture UFF, which is ten episodes of unscripted real life stories of the LGBTQ members and their families, is waiting to be released on the web platform soon. He is very positive about the responses to his series.
“When I came out with my life and when we held the first Queer Pride Parade in 2008, the response from people and media wasn’t so good. But now things have changed a lot,’’ elaborates Mohnish who when not directing web series heads the PR agency, Monkey Silver.
Before UFF, few other web series had tackled this subject and with much success. There was Made in Heaven, a web series aired by Amazon Prime Show and directed by a couple of directors, including Zoya Akhtar.
NetFlix’s very popular show Sacred Games had a transwoman character Kukoo in a powerful role.
“When I came to India from Nepal, things were very scary,’’ says transgender model Anjali Lama. Before the sexual reassignment surgery in Nepal, she went by the name of Nabin Waiba. She had a tough time and her story which was made into a documentary film by Nepal-based director Mohan Rai, got her a break into the world of big-time modelling.
“Besides the media exposure, what is needed most is counselling in schools, colleges, corporate houses etc. More than the LGBTQ members, their families need to be spoken to accept them,’’ opines Keshav Suri, the scion of Lalit Suri Hospitality Group.
Keshav is one of the very few people who came out about his marriage with same-sex partner and was supported by his family.