The Supreme Court verdict on Section 377 of the IPC that was delivered last week has come as a disappointment to all of us – straight or otherwise - who believe in democratic rights and fundamental freedoms. When the Delhi High Court de-criminalized sexual activities, whatever their ‘nature’, between consenting adults, it led to a more visible LGBTQ community – many people came out of the closet and were finally able to celebrate their relationships and identities in public. Pride parades took place in several Indian cities with parents, siblings, relatives, and friends of people from LGBTQ communities participating vocally and in large numbers. However, with the Supreme Court’s verdict pushing the ball into the Parliament’s court, it remains to be seen if our political parties will proactively take up this issue and look at it from an informed and unprejudiced standpoint.
LGBTQ rights are suppressed not only because of the laws of the land but also because of the prejudices and misconceptions that exist in society. From a culture that accepted and celebrated various forms of sexuality, we’ve become an intolerant society that has forgotten its own rich heritage. Our cinema, too, reflects this. The romantic relationships that are represented and celebrated on the big screen are overwhelmingly heterosexual and fall within the stereotypical masculine-feminine binary. Homosexual relationships are rarely represented, and almost never in Tamil films. Bollywood has progressed to at least admitting more often that Indians can be gay, however problematically it may have represented these relationships. Fire, Dostana, Bombay Talkies, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Dunno Y…Na Jaane Kyon, Page 3, Fashion, Girlfriend, My Brother Nikhil, I am – are some films which have represented homosexual relationships. And not all of them in a positive light.
In Tamil movies, the transgender community has been quite visible for many years now. But these depictions have typically been denigrating and abusive. Some exceptions, examples of sensitive depiction, are the transgender character from Mani Ratnam’s Bombay (1995) who feeds and takes care of one of the twins when the city is in the grips of a riot and the transgender sex worker in Radhakrishna Jagarlamudi’s Vaanam (2011) who essays her role with dignity. Kanchana (2011), a horror film, had Sarathkumar play the role of a transwoman and bring forth many of the issues that the transgender community deals with in everyday life.
However, depictions or even references to homosexuality are quite rare in Tamil films. Goa (2010) had a gay couple, perhaps a first for Tamil cinema. On the other hand, films like Vettaiyadu Vilayaadu (2006) in which it’s more than hinted that the two psychos who go around raping women share a homosexual relationship, have only added to the social misconception about LGBTQ communities. We’ve had plenty of bromances and really ‘close’ male friendships onscreen (the first half of Kaadhal Desam (1996) if watched on mute can very well be a film that celebrates a gay relationship) but our film-makers are yet to emerge from their closet to make films that openly celebrate LGBTQ identities. With the Supreme Court’s verdict opening up the debate once again, will we see the rainbow emerge on the big screen in Kollywood soon?
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Sowmya Rajendran is a children's writer who occasionally offers her words of wisdom to adults. She lives in Pune.