Tag Archives: Bollywood

Made In (Gay) Heaven: A Queer Man’s Guide To The Amazon Prime Original

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Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven dropped its full season on Friday, and I won’t be lying when I say that I was a tad bit apprehensive about watching the show.

Excited, yes. But also very apprehensive.

On paper, it seemed too good to be true. Created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti who helmed the iconic (and my eternal favourite) Gully Boy? Check. Starring a cast of good-looking actors with even better acting chops? Check. Exploring (but not mocking) the inner recesses of Delhi’s upper-class elite? Check. Lots of sex, drugs and rock & roll? Check. Just about every commendable indie actor gracing the guest cast? Double check.

Like I said, the show could be every Bollywood junkie’s wet dream (come true) – because it looked like it had everything. In fact, if this were a boy, I would have wooed him with flowers, and taken him out on a La La Land-inspired date.

But that’s the thing. Like most boys I’ve dated, this had the potential to blow up in my face (no pun intended). Why?

Over drinks many months ago, an anonymous insider told me about a WIP wedding-themed show with a meaty gay character (who had a meatier storyline). Said anonymous insider had thought it would make me happy.

I had only sighed.

In the past, Bollywood’s treatment of homosexuality has been both over-the-top and under-the-belt – queer men have been packed in bright florals and skintight trousers, only to become cookie-cutter caricatures of themselves. I honestly don’t mind the flamboyant stereotype, but contrary to (most of) Karan Johar’s films, there are more queer sub-cultures that are waiting to be voiced.

True, the 2019 cycle of representation has been iconic – from Shelly Chopra Dhar’s ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ exploring a lesbian love story, to Sridhar Rangayan’s ‘Evening Shadows’, a touching tale about a city-bred man coming out to his small-town mother – but they came with their fair share of triggers. Take the former, for instance – where the central voice of the reason in a queer narrative is still a CIS heterosexual man. A nice understanding man, but a CIS man still the same.

So you can imagine my apprehension when I jumped right into Made In Heaven (armed with a bottle of wine and Chinese takeout) with an open mind and a heavy heart. Did it make the cut?

It didn’t just make it; it nailed it.

Without giving away too many spoilers, Akhtar and Kagti’s Made In Heaven is the most honest representation of Delhi I’ve ever seen, coming a close second to Anuja Chauhan’s fascinatingly funny ‘Those Pricey Thakur Girls’. The number of things I liked about the show would make this sound like a love letter, so I’ll stop (because I never know how to deal with unrequited feelings).

And that’s one of the best compliments it can get.

Made in Heaven is a binge worthy show about rich society wife Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and her gay business partner/friend Karan Mehra (played effortlessly by (a rather straight) Arjun Mathur (I know because I checked), who solve cases plan weddings, while dealing with the trials and tribulations of their own personal lives – philandering husbands, snoopy landlords and bone-breaking loan sharks, to name a few.

And this is where Arjun Mathur steps up and completely changes the game as an actor playing a strong, sensible gay man. For a character to shine in such a giant crowd is commendable, especially since there hasn’t been such an all-encompassing cast since the Game Of Thrones series. So how does his queer representation appeal to the mehendi-wearing, Marlboro-smoking queer man in me?

Because he could be anybody. He could be your brother. Your friend. That popular kid from school. The class bully. The owner of your favourite jazz bar. For all we know, he could even be your wedding planner. And Karan Mehra is all of them. He’s your everyday gay man™.

The everyday gay man™ plays video games with the same enthusiasm he shows in attending queer soirees. He flits in and out of V-neck tees, but wears bespoke designer kurtas to engagement parties. He loves his wine, but he drinks beer too. He struggles with coming out to his parents, but he’s also struggling with debt. He has sex (full fledged #NSFW sex, but not too #NSFW because I know my mildly conservative mother binged the show without batting an eyelid) with lots of lean, toned attractive men, but feels lonely without his ex.

But hold on, the show isn’t just about aesthetically pleasing queer men having (aesthetically-pleasing) sex with each other. It’s about so much more.

Because MIH doesn’t just toy with the idea of a queer storyline; it polishes it and puts it up on the mantelpiece proudly, for the whole world to see (and give coveted looks at). And there’s no token gay man here, there’s an entire spectrum of gay men – gay men who are about to be married, gay men who are already married, gay men who are in same-sex marriages, and gay men who never want to get married. For a show that’s heavily built on the premise of wedded bliss, this seems like an inside joke that we are all privy too.

And then the show does something else.

It dwells deep into a world that’s still not rid of Section 377, and brings queer culture (and rights) front and centre; in a way very few movies (or Indian television shows) have done in the past. And before you know it, you feel the scary repercussions of the age-old draconian law as it pushes the main character into a plot that we all need, but don’t deserve.

Suddenly, he’s the central hero (or anti-hero, based on how you look at the string of broken hearts and broken men he leaves behind) – coming out to his parents, owning up to his life and taking a stand for queer rights, all in a span of three episodes. The beauty of Made In Heaven’s queer narrative lies in the fact that Karan’s character is never a bumbling sidekick or the token comic relief; he’s the main lead.

Akhtar, Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava’s writing constantly challenges the norms of love, relationships and marriage, but they seal the deal with their conversations on sexuality. The coming-out sequences are as gut wrenching as they are heartwarming, and while his small talk with his various paramours makes for great television, it’s Karan’s final conversation with his closeted landlord (played by Vinay Pathak) that steals the (wedding) cake.

Made In Heaven makes gay people what the media has never managed to do – it makes them real. And if this is the path they have chalked out for a second (and hopefully, future) season, I’ll gladly walk the aisle with them.

Conclusively, if I have a question for the makers of the show, it is this – how (and more importantly, why) do all the queer men in the show look like they ‘ve stepped out of the cover of GQ magazine?

And secondly, if and when I plan to get married, how do I get the fictional ‘Made in Heaven’ company to come plan my wedding with one of these aforementioned men?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film And Fabulous: Finding Queerness in Bollywood in 2018

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I usually like spending my Sundays lazing around like a cat. It is an occupational hazard of being a millennial.

This past weekend however, I decided to give my weekly catnap a reprieve, and trudged halfway across the city to watch a matinee show of India’s latest chick flick (which is not a chick flick), Veere Di Wedding.

Armed with a tub full of caramel popcorn and a soda that had more calories than I could count, I sat down to watch the movie. It was refreshing, it was funny and it was full of actresses I have a boy crush on.

Twenty minutes into the movie, (SPOILER ALERT) they revealed that Kareena Kapoor Khan‘s beloved on-screen uncle (played by my childhood favourite Vivek Mushran) is gay. In fact, he even has a thriving relationship with a loving partner. But something seemed off.

Then the ‘little things’ begin to irk me. The way Cookie (yes, that is what they call him) uncle stuck out his little finger while holding his drink. His partner’s floral shirts. His hand gestures. His over-the-top display of affection in a song-and-dance sequence. Their shared distress over the wedding invitations. Their need to be fun. The tiny things. The insignificant things. The irrelevant things.

I am not saying I did not like the movie. I did, I really, really did. For two and a half hours, I was transported into a make-believe world of first world problems, smokeless cigarettes and rampant brand promotion.

But I expected more.

See, if this were a Sajid Khan or a Luv Ranjan production, I would not have had a problem – their homophobic characters will forever be overshadowed by their highly misogynistic plotlines.

But this is different.

Because when a movie has been directed by Shashanka Ghosh, and features a cast of A-list actresses and veteran actors (including the men who play the gay uncles, Vivek Mushran and Sukesh Arora) who have given us A-list performances, this sort of representation just seems like a giant letdown, especially when all their Instagram feeds are clogged with rich, influential gays who do rich, influential things.

Do not get me wrong. The transition of queer representation from the bitchy, manipulative fashion designer (it is always a fashion designer) to the fun, understanding uncle can even be considered as the harbinger of the #EverydayPhenomenal – but is it enough? (Side note: Mildly altering the pathbreaking words of Miranda Priestly, ‘Florals for queer representation? Groundbreaking.’)

Did the uncle have to be gay? Did it further the plot? Did it further his character?

The movie has a star cast that boasts of equal parts nepotism and new-age indie actors (which I have been told is the fail-safe formula for any Bollywood blockbuster), an amazing soundtrack and dialogue delivery that will leave any mother to shame. But with a new brand being introduced every 10 minutes and no real plot development for the (not one, but two) erstwhile gay characters, the movie may very well have been a giant YouTube ad that you cannot skip.

And I could not.

‘Why are you getting so offended?’ My friends asked me. ‘Why do you think it is wrong? What else were they supposed to do?’ My rant had only started a series of whys and whats – ‘why don’t you hold your horses? What’s your grouse here? Why don’t you just watch the movie? What do you want them to do? What else could they have done? Why don’t you calm your tits?’

Well, why don’t you just shut up?

The gay man in Bollywood has become the token black guy in every white movie. A background prop, someone (or something) that makes the movie seem ‘more inclusive’ – like brands that scurry to make more LGBT-friendly content during International Pride Month.

But then again, when was Veere Di Wedding not a shameless brand plug-in?

It is 2018, and it should be getting better – people say it is too trivial to hold silent protests and candlelight vigils over ‘such things’. Too much effort. Too hipster. Too mainstream. Too unnecessary.

But is it really too much?

In the past decade, Bollywood has barely scratched the surface of LGBTQ+ depiction with caricature-like portrayals of gay men who were either camp (and therefore ‘less’ than the cis-hetero men who sidelined them) and/or hypersexual (playing on the fear that gay men were out to steal your testosterone-pumped husbands, boyfriends and next-door neighbours).

You would see it everywhere – laced as the fiercely flamboyant principal in Student Of The Year, the bitchy model coordinator in Fashion, the boyfriend-stealing best friend in Page 3 and the obviously-straight-but-pretending-to-be-gay leads in Dostana (2008). Gay men were, therefore, background props who became the butt of all jokes (excluding this one.)

Sure, Veere Di Wedding changed all of it. It made the gay characters positive – fun, witty, fashion-conscious men that women are drawn to for emotional support and douchebag-related dilemmas. But did they have to be gay?

I will tell you a close-guarded secret. These overly ‘positive’ messages, which you see a lot in the media – that gay men are particularly fashion-conscious and bitchy, and a woman’s ‘gay best friend’ – can be extremely pressurising. But why should we make do with token gay characters, pushed to the background as comic relief or a pleated pants-wearing plot device? What if we want to be serious and boring? What if we want to be a part of the everyday?

Packed in floral shirts and skintight jeans that seem to put the respiratory system at risk, we have only become cookie-cutter (no movie pun intended) representations of ourselves. I really don’t mind the flamboyant stereotype because it is honestly not a stereotype – but is it our only form of representation?

With movies like Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon (both of which did not see theatrical releases in India, so here is a shameless plugin to #ReleaseLoveSimonInIndia) where LGBTQ+ characters are not just nuanced and layered but also pushed right to the forefront as movie leads, Hollywood has taken a giant leap in showing its support for the rainbow movement.

And that is only in the past eight months. So why should Bollywood trail behind?

The problem here does not lie with Veere Di Wedding, or even Bollywood, in hindsight. The problem lies in the complete indifference with which the Indian media deals with homosexuality in general.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to be part of a ‘label-breaking’ advertisement. Helmed by an award-winning director known for his indie work, it was a #TimeToBreakStereotypes video campaign for a high-end luxury brand. They needed an openly gay man for a small bit role, and here I was, fresh out of the closet. It was Pride Month, and I was bursting to do my bit for the community (and my 15 seconds of fame).

On the day of my shoot, I drove over to the set with a fresh haircut and fresher hopes. Between a hurried costume change and makeup session, I peeped over the assistant director’s shoulder to read my character’s description on the call sheet: There were only two words.

Gay Two.

The fact that I was not important enough to be ‘Gay One’ aside (in my defense, it was an androgynous supermodel), was this really what we had come down to?

Because if the urban intellectual can be so unsympathetic to an entire sexual minority’s problems, what can we really expect from the rest of the country? Is it because of the instant dismissal of any character that is NOT the quintessential straight male lead? Or is it because the film industry fears social backlash for making a movie with strong, affirmative gay leads?

Or maybe the two reasons are the same thing.

But I still feel like we can do this. We are queer, and we are here (and to quote a fabulous friend, we are not going anywhere anytime soon, dear). The time is ripe for some fresh, realistic portrayals of queerness in Bollywood. Someone who has aspirations. Someone who has problems. Someone who likes Sunday catnaps.

Because if the LGBT+ community can step out of their closets, it is high time that Bollywood should too. I can personally vouch for the fact that the wedding sequence will be bright and glorious.