STRAIGHT(2009). Director: Parvati Balagopalan. Players: Vinay Pathak, Gul Panag, Anuj Chaudhary, Siddharth Makkar, Music: Sagar Desai, Louis Banks DVD Release: March 2009.
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Bollywood movies have been very uncomfortable around the subject of homosexuality. One can’t help but detect an undercurrent of subtle homophobia in the numerous comedic situations in recent movies when two male actors seem to find themselves uncomfortably close. The last movie to take a (really bad) stab at humanizing homosexuality was Dostana, produced by blockbuster filmmaker Karan Johar.

After her debut movie Rules: Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula, director Parvathi Balagopalan attempts a comedy around this controversial subject, but the results are mixed at best.

Pinu Patel(Pathak) hopes to change his lonely life by getting an arranged marriage to a nice “Bhartiya nari”. Unfortunately for him, his dream girl been corrupted by TV serials like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and she walks out on him on their wedding day.

Humiliated and depressed, Pinu returns to his life in London, where he runs a restaurant called “Gaylord.”

Excitement comes to his otherwise dreary existence when aspiring comedian Kamlesh(Chaudhary) and  cartoonist Renu(Panag) walk into Pinu’s restaurant looking for jobs as a cook and accountant, respectively.

A friendship blossoms between the three. While there are hints that Pinu is interested in Renu,  the plot takes a twist when Kamlesh hugs and kisses Pinu out of the excitement of winning the lottery, and Pinu has a panicked realization—not only is his best friend possibly gay, but perhaps he himself is too?

The rest of the film explores Pinu’s failed attempts at proving to himself that he is not gay. Some of the film’s gags remind you of The 40-year-old Virgin.

The film starts off promisingly, as Balagopalan establishes Pinu’s plight rather well. But the scenes drag on and become predictable. This is a recurring problem with the movie, where each segment of the story is explored for just a little too long. At the same time, plot elements that could have been further explored are dropped and forgotten. For instance, Panu has been pretending to be married to save face at his restaurant.

What happens to this pretense when he starts falling for Renu?  Also, why is Kamlesh still working as a cook at Gaylord restaurant  after winning the lottery?

Balagopalan makes a valiant attempt at directly confronting homophobia. The film doesn’t tip-toe around the subject and doesn’t leave you with a crass taste in the mouth. Pathak’s performance is excellent. Panag does a good job. Chaudhary needs to work on his dialogue delivery and is unconvincing at times. Like many other Bollywood movies, the film would have been much more enjoyable if it had been edited down by half an hour.

Antara Bhardwaj is an independent filmmaker based in San Francisco.

Antara Bhardwaj is an independent filmmaker based in San Francisco.

 

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