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How Indian cinema brought gay rights into mainstream

After years of lampooning the LGBT community onscreen, there were some path-breaking films which showed what being gay in India meant. Here are a few movies which reflect the growing level of acceptance even as a colonial-era law is reinstated, criminalising gay sex.

bollywood Updated: Jan 28, 2014 15:26 IST
Abhilasha Chhabra

Bollywood films are said to mirror the society. As films about the LGBTQ community get an easy acceptance in India, it appears that India is slowly, but surely, changing its stand. In such a scenario, the apex court's re-instatement of a colonial era law is regressive and takes us back by years.

We look at films which explored the various issues of the LGBTQ community and thus reflect the growing level of acceptance and progress in India society, something the SC could pick up on.

Dedh Ishqiya

In the recently released Dedh Ishqiya, a lesbian relationship between the leading lady Madhuri Dixit and her lady-in-waiting Huma Qureshi is presented so beautifully that its so-called 'unnatural' nature fails to hit it. Instead of focussing on a sexual act, their relationship is presented through shadow play and a doffing of hat to Lihaaf -- Ismat Chugtai's iconic short story. The silhouettes of two women merging into one was probably one of the boldest yet the most aesthetic presentation of gay sex we have seen yet in mainstream cinema.

I Am

A very pertinent film in the context of the Supreme Court criminalising gay sex in India, it shows a policeman catching Omar (Arjun Mathur) and Jai (Rahul Bose) in the act. He goes on to blackmail them and even rapes the couple. This film by Onir shows exactly what criminalisation of gay sex means for the Indian LGBT community.

My brother…Nikhil

Onir's internationally acclaimed film portrays the life of Nikihil, an AIDS patient. He tests positive at a time when homosexuality and AIDS came with a fair amount of stigma. Onir had stated the disclaimer that said the movie was a work of fiction had been put in so that the government would allow the film to be released. He said the film was an actual historical fact.


Deepa Mehta's controversial film was a loose adaptation of Ismat Chugtai's even more controversial story, Lihaf. Starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, the film is about two repressed housewives who find their happiness in each other. This movie is commendable because it represents gay women in an industry where lesbians are extremely under represented.

Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd

Farhan Akhtar and Ritesh Sidhwani's dramedy follows the story of six different couples on their four-day trip to Goa. One of the six couples is Bunty (Vikram Chatwal) and Madhu (Sandhya Mridul). Bunty is gay and married Madhu due to parental pressure. This movie explores the societal shame that surrounds the concept of homosexuality, the fear that stops one from coming out of the closet and also deals with surprising amount of acceptance when one does decide to come out.

Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltdby samurain4u

Bombay Talkies

This anthology is divided into four parts, each featuring the work of one director. Two of the four movies challenge a heteronormative vision of society. Karan Johar's segment Ajeeb Dastan Hai Yeh speaks of Gayatri, a successful media exec, who befriends the out-and-proud intern, Avinash. He suspects that Gayatri's husband is gay. This segment deals with the shame and violence that society exerts against homosexuality and the hurt and harm being in the closet can cause those who you are with.

The segment directed by Zoya Akhtar titled Sheila Ki Jawani follows the story of a 12-year-old boy whose dream it is to become a Bollywood dancer. He is inspired by Katrina Kaif and her dance numbers and he enjoys dressing up like her. His quest is violently countered by his father, who expects him to modify his actions and expectations to his notion of masculinity.


There are many things that can be said about this movie and its portrayal of the community, and most of those things are not nice. The relevance of the movie lies in its very offensiveness. It shamelessly displays exactly what is wrong with our perception of gays. It plays out every stereotype, and even to some extent validates shaming.

Kal Ho Na Ho

Through the many jokes and references to the characters of Shah Rukh Khan and Saif Ali Khan being gay, this movie opened up the discussion about being gay, and a more fluid notion of a sexual identity in Bollywood. However, most of these jokes were largely offensive and shaming.