Let’s talk June 8, 2008Posted by nitinkarani in Crime, English, Gay & Lesbian, HIV, Homophobia, Personality, Section 377, Times of India.
Tags: homosexuality, Section 377
From the Mumbai Mirror – 8 June 2008
The entertainment world is becoming comfortable with homosexuality. It now needs to affirm this openly, says Vikram Doctor, as Section 377 of IPC comes up for argument in the Delhi High Court soon
As a cultural moment it was immense, though almost entirely unnoticed. Recently Ektaa Kapoor was interviewed for the entertainment section of a newspaper and was asked one of those standard fake personal questions: “Which character would be pukka husband material for you?” Ektaa: “Bryan of Queer Folk. He’s perfect!” (As an afterthought she added Shah Rukh Khan for his Fauji role).
To understand the significance you need to know that Queer As Folk is an American cable TV series (based on a brilliant British original) that across five seasons follows the lives, loves and startlingly explicit sex scenes of a group of gay men, and one token lesbian couple, in Pittsburgh.
The group is dominated by Brian Kinney (played by the superhot Gale Harold, soon to appear on Desperate Housewives), an arrogant alpha-male adman, supersexy, super successful at both work and seducing a never-ending array of men. Brian might have a heart of gold but it is well concealed under layers of designer clothing, lean muscle and cynical, don’t-mess-with-me attitude.
Why the queen of our rona-dhona K-serials would want him as a husband would be a fascinating question (identifying with him is more understandable), if it weren’t drowned by sheer amazement that this is what the creator of Kyonki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi is watching. Think of all those aspiring Balaji hunks in Lokhandwala who must have run to the nearest DVD rental to check out the kind of man Ektaa went for. Just imagine them taking notes during all the sex scenes…
What this also indicates is the personal comfort that many of the movers and shakers of popular culture in India clearly have with homosexuality. They have gay friends, work with fairly openly gay people in many professions, go to bars in gay districts in New York and London since these are cool places to hang out in, and some are gay themselves.
One can’t help wondering if they ever consider that they live in a country where all these nice, fun gay people are technically criminals? Or that they could use their considerable influence to change that.
To be fair, sometimes they do. After an allegedly gay party in Thane was raided by the police entirely for the benefit of scandal seeking TV channels, many Bollywood celebrities publically condemned the incident. There have also been a few films where gay characters have been sensitively presented: most obviously My Brother Nikhil and last year’s Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.
But these have been rare and mostly drowned out by the increasing presence of screamingly caricatured gay characters. At best it’s Saif and Shah Rukh in Kal Ho Na Ho, where it could be argued that the joke was on Kantaben. At the far more usual worst it’s anything done by the egregious Bobby Darling, most recently in Dhoom Dadakka.
This could be part of a natural growth of public awareness of homosexuality — check out Hollywood films from the ’70s and you’ll find plenty of Bobby style characters who are there to be mocked by regular folks.
It’s part of an unlovely tendency to deal with challenging subjects by making fun of them, and one could put up with it in the hope that once people feel less threatened they might also be more tolerant.
Yet the flip side is that this trivialisation lets people get away from confronting the serious problems that the targets of their laughter face.
With Hollywood it was the horror of AIDS in the ’80s that forced people to look at the realities of what gay people deal with, in films like Philadelphia. It’s not clear what might cause such a change in India, but there’s no shortage of stories. Like that of Christy and Rukmani, two lesbians in Tamil Nadu who committed suicide last month rather than be separated by relatives.
Or of Pushkin Chandra, a gay man brutally murdered in Delhi four years back, one of whose killers has recently been given bail. Or of so many gay men in Mumbai regularly entrapped by organised blackmail rackets and who do not dare seek redress from the police for fear of being charged as criminals themselves.
All this is possible because of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law that far from being inactive, has been actively expanded over the years by the courts to make all homosexuals in India criminals.
The occasional tolerance allowed in large cities or in films does not remove this threat, and all the negative effects, of depression, discrimination and other dangers, that flow from it. Changing the law, as is now being proposed in a case that has come up for final arguments in the Delhi High Court, will not remove the problems.
But it will be an important step in affirming that India does not consider homosexuals to be criminals. And it would be nice if Ektaa, instead of just watching gay characters on TV, could put a few on TV herself to help in making that affirmation.