Badhaai Do: Is Lavender marriage A sad reality in India?
The portrayal of gay and lesbian characters in mainstream Bollywood films has been miniscule
The portrayal of gay and lesbian characters in mainstream Bollywood films has been miniscule. Queer characters and their desires have always been met with raised eyebrows. So, when it came to Badhaai Do’s trailer, audiences were divided, whether to applaud it or empathise with the characters. The trailer shows actors Rajkummar Rao, playing a gay policeman, while Bhumi Pednekar, is seen as a lesbian PT teacher, who ‘settle down’ just to get their parents off their backs.
The film explores the concept of ‘lavender marriages’ in India. For the unversed, lavender marriage is a term coined to describe a marriage between a man and a woman in which one, or both, parties are homosexual. Usually, but not always, both parties are assumed to be complicit in a public deception to hide their homosexuality. It was prominent in the 21st century when some homosexual Hollywood actors owing to the imposition of morality clauses entered into marriages of convenience to protect their public reputations, and preserve their careers.
But in the 21st century, with Section 377 being struck down and vocal support for the LGBTQIA community, isn’t exploring this concept a bit regressive? Though, it makes us think, is this arrangement common among families?
“The fact that lavender marriages are a reality in India, just goes on to show how far we as a society can go to paint a socially acceptable picture for the outside world. I actually do have a few friends who are in an arrangement of this sort, given how familial hetero-normative structures work in India,” says Anwesh Sahoo, model.
Aditya Khare, co-host of queer film content review podcast, Booty and the Binge echoes the same sentiment, “Right from childhood, we are made to believe that acceptance from mainstream society is equivalent to upholding family honor. So in the case of serious life decisions like marriage, societal acceptance trumps being authentic to ourselves in order to not taint our family name.”
We have all heard stories where a person who has been homosexual throughout life, but gets married in a heterogenoeus manner due to family and societal pressure. Are marriages in India more about living upto the pressure rather than getting into matrimony for our own emotions and needs.
“In an Indian family, when a girl child comes out in the open about her choice or gender expression, her rights and privileges are taken away so a lot of people hide in the same way as shown in the film’s trailer. In this film, it might be a marriage of convenience where both the parties are coming to a ground on what will work for them but when the audience will watch it, most families will take it to another level and they will literally try to push or force someone to do the same instead of at least having a conversation about its feasibility. I am not in favour of this at all because it doesn’t make sense to live with someone who you do not love and you are doing this just to make the entire world happy,” says Rudrani Chhetri, transgender artist, activist and model.
This arrangement not only blocks happiness for the queer person but also for many other people associated with the decision and ironically leads to us living in dishonor to ourselves. “We cannot judge those who make these decisions because when you live in a society that cringes on homosexual relationships, which can lead to being disowned, mocked or assaulted, it is very much fight or flight,” says Khare.
The easier answer here is to say, it shouldn’t happen. And in an ideal world where everybody gets to live their true identities, it really shouldn’t. “But India is still quite far from the ideal reality. And sometimes for some people a marriage of convenience is the only answer ? It might be a big NO for me, just the idea of being closeted is so suffocating to me, but I acknowledge that as queer Indians, our realities are different, and therefore our solutions are going to be different too,” adds Sahoo.
Harshavardhan Kulkarni, director of the film says, “Lavender marriage is a compromised reality for our characters. Coming from traditional middle class households, this is their solution to have some sort of control over their lives. The film does not espouse lavender marriage as a solution or escape, rather it focuses on the circumstances that lead to this kind of an arrangement between adults who find it difficult to come out to their families. I am interested in normalising the larger discourse by having characters which don’t seem exceptional at first but through the film we see their exceptional journeys – individual and collective. The film does not pass a value judgement about the characters’ choices. It tells us the story of their choices.”
However for some the arrangement works beautifully, “We fell in love in college first year. But after 2nd year of college he came out to me and apologised. But I still deeply loved him and asked him to marry me. We’ve been married for 9 years now. It’s not all that bad. He takes out time for me as well but is caught up too. It’s like he’s living three lives. Dates and sex with men, emotional support and at night we talk and share our day and work commitments. But we’ve managed it for 9 years. I’m sure we can manage it for more,” says Vanshika Chaddha, 33 years old who has an arrangement for the past 9 years.