Wednesday, June 17, 2009


A spate of Movies in recent years have dared to open doors, which were till now tightly closed, into ordinary people’s lives. These are the doors of the proverbial closet of gay lives. The movies, beginning with the path breaking Dostana, Page 3, life in a… Metro & Honeymoon Travels (Pvt) Ltd, brought the gay reality for the first time to mainstream cinema in India. This in a way acknowledges gay culture in the society’s consciousness.
In these movies being gay is not treated with scorn nor are gays judged for their orientation. But these movies, though a big step forward, are still far behind the times gay culture is grappling with.
Dostana’s lively gay couple (even though pretending to be gay for the sake of renting a apartment with a beautiful girl) take the viewers on a rollicking journey into ‘gay’ lives. The small fight due to which they occupy different bedrooms, romancing each other with roses and music, unwanted attention from determined suitors, and a hysterical mother shown trying to ‘cure’ her son through black magic…its there for all to see. At the end it acknowledges that the ‘gay’ life is no different from any other. Only the acceptance and acknowledgment by the larger society is missing. This brings rise to certain issues, which together have created a mountain to climb.

LGBT Pride March 2008, New Delhi

In Life in a…Metro and Page 3, Konkana Sen Sharma gets the privilege of opening a closet door twice, having also opened the floodgates to the real issues facing those who acknowledge their sexuality and those who don’t and want to remain shut. In Page 3 the heroine “catches” her boyfriend in bed with the male make up artiste. The shock (her’s and society’s) notwithstanding, it’s explained away as something he was doing to get ahead in the modeling world.

In ….Metro the friendly heart throb RJ pretends to be heroine’s boyfriend, to throw up a smokescreen of straightness for the benefit of his family, but more, so he could continue to get into bed with his male boss.

Both very sorry pictures of sexual politics, dishonesty, fear of being who you are etc involving personal ethics rather than gay behavior. But here they depict gay lives and whether you like it or not, being gay gets associated with such reprehensible behavior.

Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd does go a step further (a very bold step indeed), showing two gay men, pretending to be in the throes of their newly married bliss with their respective wives. Also, struggling with their gayness in their new life circumstances. Just that. Its non judgmental, and it does not offer any background of their lives or solution to them, depicting just how ordinary people get on with their lives.

Bravo! But please next time, lets have our very own Brokeback Mountain. Or why not go a step further and show actually how ordinary gay people live out their lives in India.

The upcoming model sleeps with another guy ( Page 3). Period. That’s because he’s gay. When the time comes to give answers to society (read parents and relatives) a gay guy acquires a girl friend. He even gets married to her (“Because my parents are conservative, I did it for them”: Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. ). So the next best thing, go after other guys, while still being married (the drunk husband in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. ).

The violence unleashed in some societies against people with different preference as was suggested with the killing of two men by tying burning tyres around their necks in hollywood film Brokeback Mountain, is no more than the cruelty unleashed in day to day lives of gay men and lesbian women, married by choice or force (read pressure), single or with partner. The chain of sadness, guilt, confusion, regret, sometimes aggression and abnormal behavior triggered in their lives and the lives of their loved ones is endless. Thus begins a endless Karmic cycle and the consequences are felt in many more lives than just that of the gay men and lesbian women.

“We do not encourage gays to get married, because this way they are cheating everybody, their parents, their wives and most of all themselves”, says Rahul Singh, gay rights activist at Naz foundation India Trust. “Many such marriages end up in divorce, but it is the woman who lives with the stigma”, he adds. “If people live in the closet, the misconceptions about them will continue, look at the portrayal of the actor Bobby Darling in popular cinema and TV serials. Everybody assumes that he is gay, but actually he belongs to one of the many sexual minorities which exist in our society, he says adding that the effeminate portrayal is what is the popular image of gays in cinema and hence in society, and we are still fighting for correcting that image, so it’s still a long way off for “issues” to be brought out in the open for discussion”

“ The portrayal of a masculine man in Honeymoon Travels as being gay is itself a big step ahead, because it demolishes the stereotype image”, adds Rahul

According to Film maker and gay activist Sridhar Rangayan “Dostana normalized the ‘word’ gay and gave it a definitive sense of comfort. But it surely it did not normalize homosexuality or homosexuals. But it did destroy the myth that gay men are fat, ugly, perverted and effeminate”, he says adding that “I do of course wish that Bollywood directors and producers add a dash of reality, sensibility and a give the gay men a ‘heart’.”

For Mario D’Penha, member of Nigah a Queer Collective based in New Delhi, the explanation given by one of the characters in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. as to why he got married, is most important and interesting. “ He got married because of ‘family pressure’ and even the wife chips in that she has done certain ‘bold’ things in her life and got married for ‘stability’, so it sort of puts into perspective that people are getting married for reasons more than love or compatibility”, he feels.

And gay men and lesbian women, not being able to live the lives of their choice, are finding their own ‘solutions’ on how to live their lives. “ And many times other people are unsuspectingly drawn into this solution.

Marriage is a solution for many But doing so doesn’t benefit them beyond a point, says Mario adding that society assumes that everyone is heterosexual or straight because they don’t see very many gays around.

In choosing a solution many gays are giving reasons like “ I want to have children” “ My parents need an heir” “ Society doesn’t allow that type of relationships, so this is just temporary for me” “I want to have a wife and kids” “ Gay relationships don’t last”, the reasons are endless.

Many married gay men find their way back among the gay crowd, looking and hooking up. “My wife is away, why don’t you join me for dinner tomorrow night” “ I’ve lived life enough for others now I want to live my own life” “ Someone called up my wife and told her about me, I had to really struggle to convince her that there’s nothing like that” “I need guys just for sex, I already have an emotional relationship with my wife” “ So what, even straight married men sleep around, think of it like that”

This is a tragedy of unimaginable consequences. Being fundamentally gay, they force themselves to live so to say ‘normal’ (read straight) lives. And if they pretend and then continue to do so for months, years and decades it will affect them and the people whose lives are also connected to them. Women married to gays and their children, do they get to live their lives in healthy psychosomatic conditions. And married lesbian women, do they manage to find any outlet for their real selves?

“Women are the most ignored persons in the struggle for LGBT pride; the lesbians and bisexual women who face an uphill task of negotiating their gender and sexuality in a country which still does not see women as complete equals. For them it is double oppression,” says Sridhar

“And wives of married homosexuals are completely invisible. They are in a Catch 22 situation where they can turn to no one for support or solace. Their victimization needs to be stopped and we must help them regain their dignity, ” he adds

“By the time married gay men are in their 40s they are desperately unhappy, adds Sunil Gupta a creative photographer who came out to his parents when he was just 17. “Their lives get reduced to fleeting sexual encounters, making them vulnerable to exploitation, blackmail and living a life of fear, imagine the consequences of this lifestyle on the rest of the family, he adds.

“If people continue to find their solutions and remain in the closet, how will society acknowledge them and the misconceptions will continue”, adds Rahul “ When guys give the reason that they are just sleeping around and other men do to, will they also tolerate if their wives also behave in this manner? ” he asks “ We get 30-40 calls every month from men who do not want to get married because they are gay and seek counseling” he says adding that even parents have begun turning up at Naz seeking counseling along with their gay son or daughter. “So things have begun to change, at the individual level, but society’s misconceptions need to change and the legal environment should be conducive to change too.

Homosexuality has been criminalized under section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. Naz, which has been been working in the area of gay rights since 1994, has also filed a Public Interest Litigation to challenge section 377 in the Delhi High Court. The matter is presently being heard

“If the law changed more people will come out and not lead unhappy lives themselves or subject their families to it, says Sunil.

LGBT Pride March 2008, New Delhi

Sridhar hopes that the LGBT pride march in three cities of the country (New Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkatta) on June 28th, which have now become a annual affair, will bring more media focus on the issues without sensationalizing. “Most of the TV channels sensationalized the Pride Marches – by prominently showcasing the masked men and the drag queens or hijras, or two masked men kissing, etc – they turned them into spectacles. Actually the ‘Out’ confident gay man was ignored and sidelined and actually invisiblized. That is a tragedy, because these gay men are the ones who have fought all the battles at home and with society and been responsible for some sense of dignity for gay men’.

“The pride parades are surely attracting more people, more allies like women’s groups, youth groups, human rights activists, etc, but there still has not been much participation of families and friends of gay men. I hope 2009 will bring them too into the march, in support of their kin and pals, that is when we can really look forward to focusing on the real issues,” says Sridhar

It is only then we can address the endless tragedy of ordinary lives. It would take a revisit to Honeymoon Travels and Life in a …Metro to really appreciate how gay lives are affected in ordinary scenarios. An Indian Brokeback Mountain perhaps, focusing on the wives and the children and examining why can't this mountain be broken.

Ranjit Monga