Mainly used for comic relief, with garish makeup and pronounced gestures, films often stereotyped LGBT characters. “I think it is humiliating the way Bollywood portrays us. They are fearful to address these issues head-on. This kind of portrayals send across a negative message,” says Abheena Aher, a transgender who works as the National Programme Manager at India HIV AIDS Alliance.
An equal rights activist for the LGBT community, Harish Iyer says that there is much more to their lives than just tragedy. “Our lives are not all about coming out. I would like to tell filmmakers that we are human beings and not a cause,” he says. Ashok Row Kavi, founder of Humsafar Trust, says, “There is no correct terminology for homosexuals. We are a marginalised sexuality.”
However, from the Kantaben episode of Kal Ho Na Ho (2003) to Manoj Bajpayee’s Professor Siras, Bollywood has come a long way. Lack of good scripts and a fear of rejection from the audiences are reasons that filmmakers refuse to tread on that path. Kiran is a transgender and social activist, who is part of Boney Kapoor’s upcoming film Mom. “I play a transgender in the movie. There is a dearth of roles for us in Bollywood and with this project, I am glad I got a chance to represent my community,” she says.
Even if a strong homosexual character is etched in a script, it gets rejected by top actors. “Rahul’s role in Kapoor and Sons was rejected by leading actors before Fawad Khan took it up. In this regard, Tollywood has made a significant progress,” adds Aher. Films with lesbian and transgender characters are even more difficult to come across. Film festivals like Kashish are helping bring out these issues to the core. “There is no justice in the way LGBT people are shown in Hindi films. Dostana (2008) made all this more of a joke. However, now films like Kapoor & Sons and English Vinglish (2012) have brought about a refreshing change,” says Sonal Giani, an actor and social activist.
A message that seems to resonate across the community is that research is very important while writing an LGBT character for a film. However, a positive change is coming about. Pallav Patankar, Director of Programmes at the Humsafar Trust says, “It’s a welcome change to see Bollywood portray homosexual characters, but we still have a long way to go.”