As you key in ‘Celina Jaitley’ in Google, a list of her common searches drops down: 6,93,000 results for ‘Celina Jaitley hot’, 2,59,000 for ‘Celina Jaitley in bikini’, 1,32,000 for ‘Celina Jaitley sexy pics’ and 2,01,000 for ‘Celina Jaitley hot pics.’ Just as you start typing the ‘g’ for ‘Celina Jaitley gay rights’, the dropdown proffers ‘Celina Jaitley gossip’ with 8,84,000 results. So here’s what we all know, as further evidenced by Google —Celina Jaitley is hot, sexy and controversial and can often be seen in a bikini. Now, here’s what some of us know, but don’t Google enough — Celina Jaitley is a strong advocate for gay rights in India.
In India, where families would rather have skeletons than gays coming out of their closets, being a gay activist spells trouble, especially when you happen to be a celebrity. But this 27-year-old actor, who has films like No Entry and Golmaal Returns to her credit, has never shied away from anything. Whether it is emerging out of the sea playing a violin in a tiny two piece or fronting a gay pride parade, Jaitley is known to be bold, brazen and unashamed to flaunt her assets and her attitude. Which is why she happens to be the lone Bollywood celebrity fighting for gay rights, a cause the rest of the Hindi film industry keeps a safe distance from.
“Activism runs in my blood,” says Jaitley as she lounges in her makeup van at a film school near Film City. “My grandmother works with the UN, my grandfather was a military attaché to Vietnam and my mother is a psychologist working with soldiers’ families.” Jaitley herself donned an NCC cadet cap before the Miss India-Universe crown in 2001.
Wouldn’t frolicking with orphans or going garbage picking make for a better photo-op for a glamourous actress? But gay rights is a deeply personal cause for Jaitley. “One of my best friends, who was also my first boyfriend, was gay,” she reveals. “As a closet homosexual, he endured gay bashing, depression and drug addiction and eventually passed away two years ago due to a bulimia-induced heart attack,” says Jaitley, adding, “This would never have happened if he had been openly accepted as a homosexual.”
Probir Kumar De, her gay make-up artist and mentor too passed away after a life laced with humiliation, violent relationships and suppression. “His wish was to get married to his partner and adopt a child,” says Jaitley with a poignancy far removed from her on-screen ‘image’. “Their memories have inspired to take up this cause.”
From flagging off 2008’s queer march at Azad Maidan, re-launching Bombay Dost, India’s only queer magazine this year, actively blogging about gay right issues to helping the hijra community find jobs, Jaitley has been working consistently for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community in India. She’s also planning to start a trust to rehabilitate elderly gay people who have been abandoned by their families.
But her primary concern is the amendment of Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexual acts. “What someone does in their bedroom is nobody else’s problem. If straight people were judged by what they do in bed, then believe me, everybody would be in deep s***, and you can quote me on that,” says Jaitley, green eyes flashing. “What does sexual orientation have to do with society or culture? Sexual preferences don’t affect an individual’s talent or nature.”
Try telling that to the homophobes who send the actor death threats and hurl sexist slurs at her everyday, the latest being Youth Unity for Vibrant Action (YUVA) which has threatened to initiate police action against Jaitley for her support to the Annual Gay Pride Parade that’s set to take place in Delhi on June 28. “On what grounds will they initiate police action against me?” seethes Jaitley.
She simply bears the hate mail she is flooded with. “These people don’t have the balls to do anything.” Something which Jaitley is definitely not bereft of. Which is why she’s the only actor, in an industry known for its passivity to controversial causes, who is vocal about homosexuality. “I don’t blame anybody for not supporting me. I know they support me in their hearts,” she says.
But gay rights activist and Bombay Dost’s editor-at-large Nitin Karani is more forthcoming. “There are a lot of gays and bisexuals in Bollywood who refuse to come out because they are afraid of the way they will be perceived by the public,” he says. “I wish there were more people like Celina.” Ashok Row Kavi, gay activist and founder of Humsafar Trust, agrees.
Despite these flattering testimonials, there are skeptics who brush her off as another pretty face pulling off a cheap publicity stunt. “I’m a film star,” retorts Jaitley. “If I wear one wrong dress, I’ll get publicity.”