In the year 1996, Deepa Mehta’s Fire turned the heat on. Exploring a romantic relationship between Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, the film was met with multiple protests despite being cleared by the Censor Board.
However the film definitely started the conversation about homosexuality, gay rights and also encouraged other filmmakers to experiment with the topic.
However, most directors preferred to use homosexuality as a prop for comedy. Many actors even feared being cast as such characters and rejected such subjects. It is only fairly recently that the topic of homosexuality has been dealt with, with desired seriousness.
Kapoor & Sons, Margarita with A Straw, Dedh Ishqiya, Bombay Talkies and My Brother Nikhil represented this subject with sense and sensibility. Finally for the first time we also have a mainstream actor, Ayushmann Khurrana playing the lead role gay love story Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan.
Actor Suresh Menon, who played a gay character in Partner, says, “I am happy that the portrayal of homosexual characters has seen a drastic change. Even though my character in Partner had a comic touch, it was a strong character. Some people criticised that character but such people do exist. I had seen them and met them too. When preparing for my role, I had taken inspiration from noted Marathi actor Ganpat Patil, who used to play these kinds of characters since the black and white era.”
He however thinks it will be a long time before the superstars would dare to step into homosexual roles. “I am happy that Ayushmann Khurrana has done such a role. People are now showing these characters with sensitivity which is good.
But I don’t think superstars like Salman Khan or Rajinikanth would accept these roles not because they don’t wish to, but because the audience will not accept them in these roles. On the other hand, young actors like Ranveer Singh or maybe even Akshay Kumar can pull off these characters as they have a different image.
In the past John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan too did it though it was not exactly a gay character. Karan Johar and the entire team received a positive feedback for Dostana.”
Equal Rights activist Harish Iyer maintains, “Cinema and society are a reflection of each other and as society progresses, so does cinema. It is a step in the right direction that people are venturing towards gay love stories.
Actors who avoid a role because it is a gay character are not actors in true right because actors should be willing to do all kinds of characters. Homosexuality is not an added feather in someone’s cap, it is just another dimension of humankind. There are many gay actors, who have played straight roles, who may have not even come out of the closet. They should be returning the favour by doing such roles!”
Mr Gay India and Bigg Boss contestant Sushant Divgikar points out that Fawad Khan’s character was well portrayed in Kapoor And Sons, however no Indian actor wanted to do that role. “It is an actor’s job to take on challenging roles which are not in their comfort zone. So being gay or lesbian is also like playing another character.
Very big thumbs up to Ayushmann Khurrana, because it really takes guts to take up such a role. I feel pity for other actors who haven’t done so; they don’t have spine. If you speak about sex people think you are a devil! Anyone’s sexual orientation is their own business.”
Sushant further questions the logic of actors who think that if they play gay on screen, their fan following will reduce. “If you are a good performer, people will appreciate this role too.
Even we are your fans, why do people assume that we are not people — don’t we earn money or vote? We contribute to 15 percent of this economy. I feel ashamed of actors who feel that they should not play gay. They are not actors.”
He admires the way the gay character was portrayed in webseries Made In Heaven. “Making a film on gay people is not the answer; they should be portrayed in a normal manner.”