Yaari, men in drag, and gays: tracing the changing dynamics of queer male sexuality in popular Hindi cinema

Curator's Note

Male homoeroticism in yaari (colloquial Hindi for buddy) films; masquerade of often hypermasculine actors in drag; transvestites, effeminate men, and masculine women – these are all familiar queer tropes in popular Hindi cinema. However, contemporary Hindi cinema seems to be witnessing a gradual but crucial shift in representations of queer sexuality, particularly queer male sexuality – from the earlier tropes of homoeroticism and effeminate men to more distinct gay characters. Though mostly these characters exist on the periphery, yet they have been successful in situating the queer male not only with a distinct sexual identity, but have also been instrumental in conceiving a queer male sexuality devoid from the earlier markers of gender non-conformity. However, can one simply regard these new representations of the Indian gay in popular Hindi cinema in a more ‘positive’ light than the earlier gendered and homoerotic representations? Rather, as the following clips demonstrate, these new representations can, at times, be more problematic. In the scene from Page 3 (2005, Dir. Madhur Bhandarkar), Madhavi (Konkona Sen Sharma) walks in on her best friend Abhijeet (Rehaan Engineer playing the role of an ‘out’ gay) and her boyfriend. In Life in a…Metro (2007, Dir. Anurag Basu) Shruti (Konkona Sen Sharma again!) discovers her boyfriend Vishy (Gautam Kapoor) with his boss. In both these clips, the Indian gay comes across as promiscuous, hypersexual, and devoid of any moral and ethical qualms. Is the gay male now replacing the figure of the westernized vamp as the moral/sexual ‘Other’ in Hindi films? Interestingly, in the clip from Life in a…Metro, he actually needs the straight person to tell him that it is his “right” to be gay. In doing so, is the film trying to appeal/speak to an urbane, ‘liberal,’ cosmopolitan audience? As the conversation between Vishy and Shruti shows, the film doesn’t seem to be speaking to a queer audience, but rather to the ‘multiplex audience,’ liberal, urbane, and predominantly straight. Shruti: Listen, if you wanted to hide the reality from your parents, you could have just told me. I would have played along. Why did you convince me that you love me? Vishy: It’s not that simple! Shruti: It is that simple! You are gay. It is your life, you know. Straight, or gay, or whatever…that’s your right. But to destroy someone else’s life…that’s not your right. And it’s not right!


Interesting clip. Reminds me of Suzanna Walter's analysis of US television shows where, with few exceptions, homophobia is located only in peripheral, one-off characters, allowing the mainstream (straight) audience to identify with the tolerant attitudes of the main characters. I sometimes show the episode "Fag" from the WB series Popular to my students to show how this plays out.

In Page 3 (the attached video clip), let's answer the question, "In doing so, is the film trying to appeal/speak to an urbane, ‘liberal,’ cosmopolitan audience?", with a reserved "Yes".  


As the language of the film switches from Hindi to English for the relavatory dialogue quoted by Sreya Mitra, it suggests that the concept - its okay to acknowledge being gay - is still foreign.  It may not be urbane, cosmopolitan or even liberal as much as it may be a secret language, affirmation that sits on the edge of Ockham's razor.  It is okay to be gay; but, it is still the love that dare not speak its name at least in our native tongue (and perhaps our native culture).  It is like keeping a secret from your grandmother, who still only speaks the mother tongue.  That creates the tension in the scene as the clip ends.  


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