Monday, December 6, 2010

Queer Bollywood Movies? Or Not Quite?

I have a love/hate relationship with Bollywood movies. Bollywood is a genre of Indian movies. Not all Indian movies are Bollywood. Bollywood movies are vibrant and epic musicals, and usually have happy endings. They're tend to be about patriotism, family, or love. They rarely address disability or interracial relationships. Bollywood movies can be full of stereotypes and cliches and can be pretty contrived, but many Bollywood movies are fully aware of this and embrace it in a cheeky way.

Sexuality in generally is a taboo subject. The act of sex is rarely seen, let alone alluded to, despite how sexual the movies can seem with bare-waisted women and shirtless men are dancing about every ten minutes or so. Until I did some research, I honestly did not think there were any Indian (Bollywood or not) movies which positively portrayed homosexuality. I mean, homosexual intercourse between consenting adults was decriminalized in India in July 2009 (one and a half years ago). So, where does one go to figure out what queer Bollywood films are out there and popular? Well, I go to my family, and the only movie they thought of as having gay characters or themes was Dostana from 2008.

Dostana, which is Hindi for “friendship,” is a romantic comedy about two men, Sameer (Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (John Abraham), who pretend to be gay to get a place to live. They rent a couple of rooms of an apartment from an older lady who has beautiful niece, who lives in the apartment as well. It was a problematic movie. Every single character who is actually gay is a stereotypical caricature, and there is nothing to balance these crazy characters. The movie is set in Miami, and going back to the article “South Asian (Trans)nation(alism)s and Queer Diasporas” by Jasbir Puar, it portrays Western countries as the place to go if one is queer because everyone would be more open and accepting.

There are a couple of things which I did like about the movie. The mother of Sameer finds out that he is gay, that he's in a relationship with Kunal, and she flips out initially. She eventually becomes accepting of the idea of having a gay son, and she does a ritual with Kunal which she would have done with the bride if Sameer had actually married a girl. It was heartening that the mother, symbolic of an older, more conservative generation of Indian people, came to accept that she might have a gay son. It was also troubling because of the homonormativity the situation takes on because the acceptance came as a result of adherence to traditional gender roles.

Also, at the end, Sameer and Kunal, after their lies about being gay are discovered, kiss each other. Throughout the movie, there was a definite chemistry between them, and they come to rely on each other. The movie ends with them recalling the kiss they shared and being uncomfortable with it. I read it as them being uncomfortable with new feelings the kiss may have brought them, as being uncomfortable with the idea that they actually may be attracted to each other. A sequel, Dostana 2, is supposed to be released in 2011, so my questions about Sameer and Kunal might get answered, hopefully with a more balanced depiction of queer people.


  1. I think it is also interesting that they fact their sexuality to get legal residency. What else could this say about people of color immigrating to the U.S ? I am kinda looking forward to the sequel!

  2. I also thought that part of the movie was problematic. I saw it as a critique of immigration, that people (specifically Indians) would do anything to be able to immigrate to the states. I don't know.