Class, The Married Woman, Haddi, Made In Heaven: The Queereality of OTT | Pride Month - Hindustan Times
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Class, The Married Woman, Haddi, Made In Heaven: The Queereality of OTT | Pride Month

ByAkash Bhatnagar
Jun 14, 2024 07:07 PM IST

For Pride Month, we ask Ashim Ahluwalia, Sahir Raza, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Parul Gulati and Chintan Rachh about the road ahead for queer representation on OTT

Queer lives onscreen have come a long way in the Indian media, beginning from regressive sketches very early on to caricaturish portrayals and until recently, more nuanced characterisations. OTT has, without a doubt, been instrumental to this change, with shows such as Sacred Games, Made in Heaven and Class, among others. This Pride Month, we ask directors and actors about the gaps in queer representation onscreen that still lie waiting to be bridged.

An analysis of Queer representation on Indian OTT
An analysis of Queer representation on Indian OTT

No queer leads for how long?

Last year, director Ashim Ahluwalia displayed a gay love story in his show Class which resonated with the audience a lot. However, he still doubts the intent of OTT platforms in giving place to queer stories. “I would say the platforms are superficially open as that’s the general atmosphere, but I’m not sure it’s always for the right reasons. There is a hesitation still for queer lead characters. The industry still seems to have trouble portraying LGBTQIA+ characters as fully-formed individuals rather than stereotypes or tokens,” he says.

However, Sahir Raza, director of The Married Woman, believes the landscape has changed in the last 10 years. Yet, he insists that casting queer characters is a challenge. “There aren’t many people out there who I can call and say, ‘I have written a queer character, can you cast a queer actor for it?’. There are several actors who are not out yet as unfortunately, an openly queer person might not get many acting jobs in our industry,” he says, asserting that the scenario of no primary queer lead characters “might never change”. “It’s not because of the bias necessarily, but because of the population make up. You will eventually have stories of the majority instead of any minority community because they make up the larger viewership,” he adds.

A still from Made In Heaven 2
A still from Made In Heaven 2

Representation versus nuance

Giving a take on how OTT platforms approach queer stories, Manish Kalra, Chief Business Officer, ZEE5 India says, “It is essential to give voice to the stories of diverse communities. With Ardh and Haddi, we aimed to break down barriers and challenge the stereotypes prevailing within our society. We celebrate diversity and take a crucial step towards a more inclusive society by ensuring that every viewer can see themselves reflected in the stories we tell.” He admits that with queer stories, the audience base also increases: “We attract a broader audience base across geographies.”

Actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who played a trans character in Haddi insists that he didn’t do the film just for the sake of representation. “We wanted to bring out their truth, complexity and issues they face in society. We tried to show it in the most honest way and that takes a lot of effort as an actor. Sachchai dikhana mushkil hota hai,” he says.

A still of Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Haddi
A still of Nawazuddin Siddiqui in Haddi

However, actor Parul Gulati, who portrayed a lesbian character in Silence 2, doesn’t mind even if queer characters are written as diversity hires. “Earlier we didn’t even use to have any representation of the community. We had only seen caricaturish portrayals, and thus ‘queer’ was used as a bad word and people would laugh at such characters,” she says.

In Class, actor Chintan R Rachh played a gay character Faruq and he shares that the audience acceptance is larger for queer characters because of how long their identities were subdued. “It used to be taboo to even talk about queer identity before. If something is suppressed too much, when it comes out, you feel happier because of the liberation you fell seeing your representation. The acceptance comes from the soul,” he says, adding that post the show, he got only one offer to play a queer character again. "The issue is that not many such stories are being made, otherwise I would have gotten more such offers. Most stories with queer characters have them as subplots,” he adds.

However, Ahluwalia insists that the growing pressure on vacuous representation causes difficulty — “For instance, I’ve been criticised for having queer characters that have ‘unhappy’ endings, but I don’t face the same issue if a non-queer character has it,” he says, pointing out the connection between token inclusions and generic plotlines.

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