What is that one thing, which sways the Indian masses, makes them cry, laugh, dance and gives them dreams of fame and stardom which are usually never realised? The answer is the Hindi Film industry, popularly known as Bollywood and commonly represented and promoted internationally as the definitive Indian film industry. Bollywood might have had a very humble beginning but it is probably one of the largest capitalistic concerns existing today. It churns out an astonishing number of more than 1200 films every year (quantity and not quality matters), making it the largest film producer in the world and this inadvertently turns us into the world’s largest consumer of films.
Stars have shone and faded, the technology has changed, the lengths of the films might have been reduced from three-and-a-half hours to one-and-a-half hours, but the popular mainstream cinema till date remains escapist in nature. It mainly glossed over or completely obliterated history and shunned away from the real problems and contemporary anxieties of the Indian nation.
The larger-than-life films have become a part of Bollywood’s identity. Bollywood’s excessive melodrama even went on to influence the formats of our television serials, soaps and even our news! If cricket is the religion of India, then Bollywood is the main dietary content of the Indian masses. Like large sections of our Indian society, many of the Hindi films have been shamelessly judgmental and sexist.
It is true that cinema has reached a majority of the Indian population, crossing over barriers of illiteracy and language effortlessly. But the kind of power which Bollywood and its contemporaries enjoy makes it an extremely dangerous medium at the same time.
The common man who approximately consumes 30 films every year, in many cases, not only believes but also puts to practice what he see the larger-than-life heroes doing on screen. So be it harassing a girl, or forcefully kissing her in public, Bollywood makes you believe that in the end, the girl has no choice but to fall for her stalker. Thus when these celebrities stand for local elections it is not very surprising that these people vote for them believing that their screen idols can actually do what they do on-screen in real life!
Beyond the colour, opulence and grandeur, the song-and-dance routine, the attractive faces to swoon over and plush sets which mock the standard of living of the common man, the one thing which all the Bollywood films have in common is its penchant for stereotyping the LGBTQ community. After the Supreme Court of India declared homosexuality as a criminal offence on December 11, 2013, I guess it is only relevant to discuss the type of stereotyping Bollywood exposes the community to.
Apparently, every queer in Bollywood is a gay man who is most certainly effeminate and a fashion designer. Bollywood, with all its ignorance and homophobia, has quite conveniently eliminated the other members of this diverse community! The only other typical gender stereotypes dictates that every ‘hijra’ or a transgender is a child-trafficker.
Yes, with time, we have had films like Fire, Memories in March and My Brother Nikhil.
We have crossover films like Tasher Desh, which deals with breaking the gender definitions of the society we live in; made by the path-breaking filmmaker Q. In the film a woman is depicted passionately kissing another woman, but when it comes to a man kissing another man, he can’t kiss and he doesn’t. This remind us also of the fact that this is a patriarchal society where lesbian sex would any day sell like hot cakes.
We have films like Kal Ho Na Ho where a maid faints every time she witnesses two best friends together, suspecting that they are gay. It is painful to sit through films like Student of the Year where a gay school principal is depicted as nothing but a threat to a marriage, constantly physically assaulting the wife of the gym-coach. We also have Dostana which apart from being an insult to the comedy genre, mocks bromance instead of celebrating it and unknowingly addresses the ingrained homophobia in a crude way. A film like Page 3 tells us that all gay men are middle-aged daddies who are pedophiles as well. It is sad that we consume these very products and find such modes of entertainment entertaining.
One doesn’t have to explicitly state the extent to which such stereotypes in popular culture impact the Indian masses. The guy who is willing to harass a girl, emulating his onscreen hero, will also emulate the homophobia he is being taught from the same medium. We must also understand that an industry like Bollywood might never allow us to make a film called My Boyfriend Nikhil. As long as the popular culture says it’s alright to harass and make fun of the LGBTQ community, and as long as Bollywood and others continue painting the queer people with its invented stereotypes, things really wouldn’t change. And they ought to change.