In recent years, a few Bollywood movies and web shows like Margarita with a Straw, Kapoor & Sons, Badhaai Do, Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui, Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, Maja Ma, Made in Heaven, Mismatched, Ajeeb Daastaans, Four More Shots Please, etc. have changed the perspective of common people towards the LGBTQIA+ community. But have you thought about why filmmakers cast famous celebrities or straight actors for queer roles? Why not consider hiring queer people for the same roles?
“I think film directors and producers may not always cast LGBTQIA+ individuals for LGBTQIA+ characters due to various factors. The factors might be the limited availability of the talent pool and visibility of openly LGBTQIA+ actors, market considerations, and the presence of stereotypes or discrimination in the industry.” says film director Abhinav Dubey.
“Casting decisions are often influenced by the desire to deliver the best performance and attract a wide audience by taking famous actors.” asserts Abhinav. Recently, his latest short film, Baramasi - Daughters of the Immortal Tree, was selected to be screened at the Marché du Film - Festival de Cannes. His another movie Marigold will be screened at the KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival on June 11.
Still from Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan
KASHISH is a festival dedicated to LGBTQIA+ films from all around the world. There are many factors the filmmakers have to consider while casting for the queer roles. There are a few directors who cast LGBTQIA+ people for roles that demand it. Anisha Sharma, director of the narrative short film Beach avers, “For Beach, the story of a transgender man and his equation with his cishet (someone who is both cisgender and heterosexual) best friend, I knew that we needed to cast not just a queer man but a transman for the role. For us, living that experience was more important than acting chops because this sensitive story deserved to be told in the right way.”
Beach is the tale of a transman (Karan) who recently had gender affirmation surgery, and his best friend (Aditya), a cis-man who has been a testimony to Karan’s struggle with gender dysphoria throughout college and who stood up more often for Karan than he had for himself. Opening up about the casting process, Anisha mentions, “The challenges of finding a trans man who was willing to fulfill the requirements of the lead role were an uphill task. The process was stressful, but at the end of the day, I am so proud that we managed to pull it off, and hopefully the audience sees the authenticity flow from the screen to their hearts.”
Another director, Onir, has cast a gay actor in the gay role. His directorial Pine Cone, follows the life of a gay man over three decades through his different relationships. It also highlights different landmarks for the LGBTQIA+ community, like the first gay pride, which happened in 1999, and then, 10 years later, the Delhi High Court’s decriminalisation of the same-sex relationship. The movie has Vidur Sethi in the lead, and probably for the first time, a Hindi film will have a gay actor playing the lead gay character.
Still from Pine Cone
Pine Cone director Onir discloses that the issues lie within the industry. “The problem lies with the entire system because everyone is looking for known faces. No one wants to do a film that has newcomers, especially if a trans character is being played by a real trans person. I think this is an ideal world, where one does not have to cast a gay or lesbian actor for the role. It is important to cast a trans person for a trans role because gender and sexuality are two different things.”
Even after understanding the requirements of the role, if the casting agency or directors think of casting from the community they face lot of challenges. Many actors aren’t out about their orientation, which is understandable because being queer is still taboo in this country. “Despite Sec. 377 being revoked, there are many queer people who often get typecast into society’s perception of what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, etc. A nuanced take on queer people takes sensitivity, research, and time, which isn’t always afforded to actors or anyone involved in the process of making a film,” reveals Anisha.
There are many community actors who don’t come out of the closet. Each one of them has their own personal reasons for not revealing their identities. On this Onir feels, “ Maybe a lot of queer actors don’t come out because then they will also be bracketed as he or she. There are various reasons, but one of the main things is the lack of acceptance and wants in the industry, the studios, and the platforms to actually empower people from the community to come out and play their roles.”
Today, there are only a few queer actors who are out of the closet. And to support them, there are many casting agencies that find the most authentic community actor for the role. This opens more doors and gives more queer actors the confidence to be out and proud.
The real question is, “Will the audience like it?” Because in the end, whether it’s a movie, short film, or web show, it is made for the audience. “As an audience, we will definitely watch it to support this kind of bold step. This step is much needed, and as a nation, we should normalise the fact that a queer actor can play a queer character and it can be a good movie,” reveals Naina Kapoor, a Gen Z student studying film making.
There is a set of audience members who will support this step, while there are other individuals who might have different point of view. on this. Arun Sharma, a 25 year-old man, mentions, “As an audience, if I know that Ayushmann Khurrana or RajKummar Rao is playing the queer character in a movie, I will be excited to watch it. I might watch it thinking about how they have adapted themselves in the characters. Whereas, if this role is played by some queer people who are less popular, I might not watch it. In the end, I don’t want to waste my time and money on a movie, which I don’t like.”
It is not only in the hands of the filmmakers; it is also in the hands of the audience. A change requires efforts from both sides. If you are a filmmaker, take the bold step of casting community actors for their respective roles. And if you are an audience member, you can support these individuals by watching their work, and a little appreciation will make a great impact.