Screenwriter Gazal Dhaliwal On The Portrayal Of Homosexuality In Bollywood Films
- IWB Post
- May 13, 2019
Beginning of the year saw Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, a film that garnered a lot of attention because of its unconventional storyline, which showcased same-sex romance between two women.
It was written by Gazal Dhaliwal, a transwoman, who had spoken earlier about how Bollywood lacked acceptance of stories about the LGBTQ community. Today, with a successful career as a screenwriter, she emphasizes on how the portrayal of homosexuality on the silver screen needs to be “far more direct” now, as compared to the past.
On her takeaway from the film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga
“There has been an immense emotional takeaway for me. I received many heartfelt messages about how the film helped several LGBTQ people come out to their families and start a dialogue with their parents. They had the courage to take their parents for the film because it is a family entertainer with big stars, humour, good music, and song and dance. It is overwhelming for me when people tell me how the film made a difference in their lives. In fact, it has inspired some fan fiction as well.
For me, Ek Ladki… was the homosexuality 101 that India needed, albeit in a mainstream format. When I write the 102, it will be far more direct. In this one, we were allowing people to settle in, slowly taking them along, and helping them get comfortable with the subject. The next LGBT film will spend more time on a love story and not merely touch upon it as I did in this one. A lot of people had a grouse that the romance in the film was restricted to just a few scenes, but that was completely by design. Having said that, I know that two more scenes of romance between the girls would not have hampered anything, and I wish we had included them.”
On the response of mainstream Bollywood actors to work in a film with a homosexual plotline
“The time has arrived for films like these. There are plenty of actors who would want to be a part of a film that is well-made and has a thorough script. While ageism and sexism are pressures that Bollywood actors have to deal with, there are stars who are comfortable enough in their masculinity to take up the role of a homosexual. For instance, if a film like Shubh Mangal Saavdhan with its taboo topic can be made, there is hope.”
On the importance of humor in making such tabooed topics relatable to the audience
“I believe it’s essential to incorporate humour in any film. Filmmakers have to be sensitive to our audiences and realise that, at the end of the day, they are not coming for art but to lose themselves in the plot, to forget their worries, to love the characters and laugh with them, and to be entertained. The films that serve this need have a better chance of working at the box office. The element is especially for a topic such as LGBTQ rights and acceptance because there are enough homophobic people in this country, I have experienced it first hand; in every show that I went to, I saw eight to 10 people getting up and leaving, most of them families dragging their kids along even if the kids wanted to stay back and watch!”
Her take on homosexuality portrayed in Bollywood films in the past
“To be honest, I laughed at the Kanta Bai scenes in Kal Ho Naa Ho. They were funny, and the film was made tastefully. However, it was still a mockery of gay and transgender characters. For those times, perhaps, it did make a small mark and brought homosexuality into the public consciousness, but I wish that this had not been the way of introducing these characters into mainstream cinema. Sometimes, not saying anything is better than making fun of something. Using humour in the rest of the film to introduce an unusual character is great, and that is something we tried in Ek Ladki…, but using humour directed at LGBTQ characters is not a good idea.
Having said that, I loved Karan Johar’s Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh in Bombay Talkies. It showed real issues that LGBTQ people face. It was such a sensitive portrayal of a closeted homosexual man in a loveless marriage who has internalised homophobia to an extent that he does not even admit his own orientation.”