‘Shab’, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’: Why do we refuse progression and concede to conformists?
Throughout my teenage and college days, I remember watching Hindi films with astonishment and a strong sense of humiliation. Exceptions were few. “Tu ladki ke peeche bhagega, ladki paise ke peeche bhagegi. Tu paise ke peeche bhagega, ladki tere peeche bhagegi”, a certain character of Prabhudheva’s ‘Wanted’ had boasted. Even a 17-year-old brain could feel the ignominy, the disgrace. With time, I, rather we, have grown more dishonoured. But what hurts me the more is how we have comfortably set rules for a film to qualify as a mass or family entertainer, and the discourteous values are given a clean chit. What’s more worse? With time, we’ve got less open to progressive content.
Depiction of women in films is a subject done and dusted. The issue is rooted deeper. What you do is a reflection of what you believe, and a regressive outlook is likely to overpower all spheres of your thoughts.
Young filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava, to much of our delight, recently took up a battle with the Central Board of Film Certification of India, or should we say the self-proclaimed censor board? Alankrita’s film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ deals with four women, their fantasies and also the battles they’re make-doing with. As much as the film pleased many of us, I was in for quite a lot of expectations inside the theatre.
At a suburban multiplex of Mumbai, the special show consisted of what you call an educated, urban audience. But the sly smiles when Aahana Kumra, on screen, was savouring an intense penetration, were too loud to be ignored or overheard. When Ratna Pathak Shah shivered in an uncontrollable desire, I saw someone chuckling, ‘ iss umar mein’? Konkona Sensharma, every night, rests herself on the bed while her husband rips her vagina with a savage show-off of his manliness and authority over his wife. Marital rape struck no head, but the open display of sex caused many to giggle.
Almost every Bollywood film has got an unrepresentative representation of bravery by its (male) protagonist. And so is the case when it comes to men lusting women. She sways her waist and he ogles. She bites her lips, his tongue is almost moist as he covets her. You’d argue, the woman wasn’t forced to get there. I’d argue, why never get a man there? The uncomfortable answer is, women’s sexual urge and fantasies always remained unwelcome, in a way. Hence, when I finally stop shilly-shallying and start showing off what I crave for, you are bewildered. Or worse, you’re unrightfully offended.
Not long back, CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani wore his bizarre self once more and issued an instruction that influential superheroes shouldn’t be shown smoking or drinking on screen as they could send out wrong messages. It is ridiculous as to how PEOPLE never learnt from those heroes how to rescue a woman in danger and how to help when a building catches fire; but funnily enough, might learn to drink and smoke.
Onir, who is fearlessly expressive with both his own sexuality and his own films, recently made ‘Shab’, a small-town guy’s journey towards fame and how life shatters him in the process. It contained plenty of crisis, to the lead character’s dismay. I remember Ashish Bisht standing in the balcony in an undergarment in one of the sequences, and someone whispered, “Onir is a gay after all; he has to show ‘that thing’ of a man’!
Before we ever crib about Indian films not being substantial enough, we need to recheck how receptive are we towards them, and how sensitive are we towards content that might put our perceptions through an acid test. I was recently in ‘Mubarakan’, a ‘family entertainer’, as everyone has been putting it across. Anees Bazmee, true to his visions, does not include any skin show or sensation since he believes his films are watched by families. While families are (arguably) not okay with experiencing kisses and more, they’re comfortable enjoying characters that are short on opinions. Nobody takes offence on a female character being delightfully obedient to her elders. But when you put her across as a puppet to other people’s will, do I not have a right to take offence?
What majorly goes wrong is how regressive approaches make space to family entertainers, natural intimacy doesn’t. Consciously and unconsciously, we are passing on wrong messages through cinema; a medium that moulds millions of minds in our country. On the other hand, while we head towards a desperate need of rational discussions on relationships, physical intimacy, flesh business and much more (because they all are as real as we are), we tend to eliminate and alienate every such discussion from our films. We are letting down our Alankritas and how!
Think, or pick a cookie and ignore! 🙂
Watch the full movie ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ here
Kapoor & Sons: Caught the plight of homosexuals tenderly and yet made 'coming out' look doable
Kapoor & Sons – Since 1921. The house proudly flaunted that to the world, nestled in the greens of Coonoor. No one knew the darkness that was inside, the demons that were individually dealt with. But then, isn’t every family like that?
Two years have passed by since this Shakun Batra-directorial, story of a dysfunctional family had come to our lives. However, amongst the various themes that tore apart the family and eventually brought it together, one that truly had the power to transform, was that of homosexuality.
Not many know, that the role played by Fawad Khan, that of family’s elder son, a successful author, was actually offered to many A-listers, who turned it down, eventually leading him to step into the shoes of Rahul. And it was, indeed, a very big step on his part. He was venturing out of his territory, a man who has such a huge female-fan following, and comes from a country with religion as its main running philosophy. He did the role and brought such conviction to it that we were forced to stand up and applaud, his courage, and the beauty with which his character was carved.
Since times immemorial, all our memories of gay characters on screen have been that of carelessly effeminate and unimportant roles, which are just there to add a comic element. The stereotype has been high to an extent that often the champions of the same channelise it and promote it, for it is wrapped in the shiny paper of presentation. The biggest example of this was ‘Dostana’, which was an amazing story of friendship, still used homosexuality as humour, as its backdrop. Ironically, it came from the same production house, though nearly eight years before that.
But ‘Kapoor & Sons’ begged to differ here. The character here was real, someone who was hiding himself, for the society, his family. There was surreality to the theme of homosexuality here, which had the power to jar us inside out; and that, it did.
Two scenes from the movie specifically hit me. First one is when Sunita (Ratna Patak Shah) finds out that her ideal elder son, whom she adores and is proud of, is not straight. The aftereffects of the same jolt you, because the reaction is just what an Indian mother gives, in any situation that is beyond her control; uncontrollable anger at the offspring, and then uncontrollable guilt, of blaming herself and her upbringing. The scene is filmed so beautifully, that your eyes sting. The way Fawad’s facade falls and his fear is marked across his face, which is then replaced by the anger of hiding himself for all those years, and mother’s dilemma and hurt, it all comes out in a naked and real manner.
Another sequence is when Rahul (Fawad Khan) comes back home after the showdown with his mother and the death of his father totally uproots whatever sanity his family possessed. He sits with his mother, with whom his last encounter was one of his coming out, and she asks, hesitatingly, about his partner. A subtle way of expressing acceptance, the way they hold hands, without saying anything, it stays with you.
It may not be one masterpiece, but ‘Kapoor & Sons’ will forever remain a favourite for finally breaking the mainstream stereotype of a gay man, in Bollywood. And for that, no matter how many bans, I will forever be waiting for Fawad Khan to come back, and give us more performances; with dare and conviction.
An ode to Sridevi, the queen who inspired the queers long before it became mainstream
“I am a kid from the 90s but still can’t forget those days when, me-myself was not out and proud about my preferences. And inside my own sweet world would dance in front of the mirror on many songs, but majorly on ‘Hawa Hawai’ and ‘Main Teri Dushman, Dushman Tu Mera’. These songs were just not tunes for me, it made me feel exactly what I was; a QUEERby birth”.
The news of the legendary diva Sridevi being no more with us is still hard to believe, as she was part of my and every queer’s childhood memories. While in the late 90s my bunch of friends would idolise a star from the West as their gay icon, me being a full-fledged Bollywood fanatic was in love with Sridevi and she was a diva I used to worship (and will forever). Her golden costume and perfectly done makeup in ‘Hawa Hawai’ made me feel, “Yes! There is someone like me out there who loves bling and all things loud.” Her feather headgear in one of the songs from ‘Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja’, touched my drag Queen‘s soul. One of the lines from her song ‘Hawa Hawai’ which is ‘Soorat Hi Maine Aisi Paayi’ transported me into a world where I thought that there is someone narcissist just like me. Sridevi’s charm was on my mind and the feminine side in me just wanted to be a replica of her.
The gone actress has not only given a lot to the Indian cinema, but her sass and talent of naturally moulding herself into any character gave her an upper hand in whatever she used to do. When many gay men were struggling and were confused about their sexual orientation they found a connection to their on-going pain in Sridevi’s roles. Whether it was Sridevi as a meek Anju and ferocious Manju fighting for everything wrong in ‘ChaalBaaz’ (1989), Pooja’s mutiny against the everlasting societal conditions in ‘Lamhe’ (1991), Seema’s confidence-filled and fearless dance in the ‘Mr. India’ (1987) song ‘Hawa Hawaai’ or her role of a naagin (snake) coming out to the world about her dual identity in ‘Nagina’ (1986), Sri’s roles had a deep connection and were etched in every GAY man’s mind.
And how can one miss ‘Kate Nahin Kat Te’ song of Sridevi from ‘Mr. India’, where she owned the song and made every gay guy’s dream to dance on it once with his man. This particular song was wild, seductive and equal parts bold. Sridevi draped in a sky-blue coloured saree with a matching bindi and of course adding fuel to the fire was her dancing moves. Even at the end of the song, a fully wet in rainwater, Sridevi stretching herself on a pile of hay – ‘Tumne jo li angdayi hai’ – where the diva nibbles on straws with a drenched fire in her eyes, leaving Mr. Kapoor to chivalrously lie on a distant haystack.
While mostly when the film fraternity was in a zone where feminine men were used as a tool to add fun elements on the silver screen, Sridevi was a ray of hope for the LGBTQ community. She was like a powerful symbol for the QUEERS. Her role resonated each and every gays struggle, and also echoed their dysphoria into her characters. And with her, all the queer children surpassed the narrow-minded stereotypes which they were labelled with. Lastly, she might be gone, but the colourful rainbow universe she opened for all the fellow LGBTQ people remains there intact..
Hail the QUEEN! RIP Sridevi.