Tag Archives: homophobia

Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan – A Gutsy New Love Story

Bollywood, with its penchant for cheap thrills, has always projected gay men as comic, sadly fringe people whose sole function in a movie is to induce laughter at their expense. And so, as recently as the turn of the century, we got movies like Kal Ho Na Ho, where Saif Ali Khan pretends to be in love with Shahrukh to torment his homophobic maid, Kantaben (seeing the two in bed together, throws her into a  traumatized state of comic shock).

Fast forward 15 years to 2018 and India seems to have made spectacular progress towards a humane and liberal view of same-sex relationships. In September of that year, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples deserved the same legitimacy and respect that heterosexuals are afforded under the law.

The Supreme Court ruling can’t apply to hearts and minds, however, and the roots of homophobia still run very deep in India. Ancient prejudice can’t be obliterated as easily by a legal dictum.

Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan is a movie that takes on this final frontier of Indian bigotry – homophobia. casteism, classism, sexism, racism, ageism, bureaucratism, and nepotism have all been tackled in the past few years by Bollywood’s profitable ‘conscience cottage industry’ of showcasing ‘human rights.’  Homosexuality is the one topic mainstream cinema tiptoed around before director Hitesh Kewalya wrote the script for Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan, and Ayushman Khurana and Jitender Kumar had the guts to play the roles of the first ‘we’re just the regular guys next door’ gay couple in Indian cinema.

This movie’s significance lies in the fact that it emphasizes the sheer ordinariness of being gay. It’s a depiction of what it means to be a homosexual, not in any chic, metropolitan, big city sense – where there is a worshipful cult around prominent gay men (think Rohit Bal, Karan Johar, Manish Malhotra) – but specifically, in a small town like Allahabad, in India’s heartland.

It’s about two regular guys who also just happen to be gay, and who go public with their sexuality in a home-spun community that vilifies such relationships. All this is woven around some gut splitting comedy, which moves from the hilarity of dysfunctional small- town family bickering (another recently popular Bollywood money spinner), to satirical spoofs on those who are homophobic, like venerable parents.

I loved some of the initial scenes in the movie, especially the ‘Shaadi Express’ where members of a clan of Tripathis from Allahbad are running to catch a train all decked out in marigold garlands. They are heading to a cousin’s (Goggle’s) wedding to an elderly divorcee, the best she can get with one eye blinded and deformed by an accident.

The doted-on son of this cozy, joint-family clan is Aman (Jitendra Kumar), a closet homosexual.  Karthik (Ayushmaan Khurana), Aman’s love interest, is an irrepressible, fearless proponent of gay rights. He’s deeply in love with Aman and convinces him to let him (Karthik) join the Shaadi Express as Aman’s guest. Disaster strikes when Aman’s father Shankar Tripathi (Gajraj Rao), catches the two kissing passionately on the train.

Shankar Tripathi’s visceral reaction is to throw up. There is some great symbolism in this movie––throw up is like the imagined collective Indian reaction to a sex scene involving two men. But the admirable screenplay and direction of this movie make us feel immediately that the throw up is the father’s problem, not his son’s.

Once he is ‘outed’ to his father, the rest of the story involves a war between the protective parent (Shankar Tripathi), and the ‘corrupt’ influence (Karthik), on a much loved son. There are various side plots involving Goggle’s attempts to ‘normalize’ her unmarried state and Shankar Tripathi’s attempt to grow a ‘flawless’ cauliflower which worms would never attack. They seem to be designed to hammer home the same message—love can come in many forms and should never be criminalized. It’s all quite comic, but at times overwhelming, like an out-of-whack pinball machine.

This movie packs in so much energy, and so much funny, corny humor, that I wonder if the director was trying to make sure the movie would be a success despite its central theme—love between two men. A romance between a man and a woman would have spun out the romantic aspect, but here we get the struggle for acceptance decked out in hilarity. A somewhat gratuitous, but very funny scene, involves Karthik and Aman helping Bhumi Pedneker in a cameo role, elope with her boyfriend.

What Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan does is normalize the individuals attached to the label—Karthik and Aman are just regular ‘nice’ guys looking for the same things heterosexuals look for—love, acceptance and happiness in a future together. We see them as very likeable and we empathize with their need to not feel like they are weird social outcasts. The jokes are never at the expense of gay men and are sharp jabs at the stereotypes and prejudices against homosexuals ingrained in middle class Indian society.

This movie is a riot, sometimes an overwhelming, overdramatized one, that tries too hard to amuse while educating.  But it’s definitely a riot worth watching. And much of the dialogue is priceless – the Tripathi family’s desperation to get Goggle married, Karthik quips, “Shaadi na hogayi, antibiotic ka course ho gaya jo pura karna zaroori hai.”

Ayushmaan Khurana brings his usual irrepressible energy and dynamism to the role and Jitendra Kumar does a good job as a cautious, worry-laden counterfoil. Gajraj Rao as the father and Neena Gupta as Aman’s mother have the same comic energy we saw in Badhai Ho, with Neena firing rounds of snappy zingers at her harassed husband and the world in general.

One has to appreciate how Hitesh Kewalya plays with Bollywood’s memorable romantic moments and recasts them as satire, in the context of gay love. The ‘Jaa Simran Jaa, Apni Zindagi Jee Lay’ dialogue from Dilwale Dulhania Layjayengay was laugh-out loud!

It’s clear the Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan team had as much fun making the movie as you will watching it.

Jyoti Minocha is an DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins, and is working on a novel about the Partition.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing Editor at India Currents

Are Workplace Rights Equal For All?

The struggle at the core of every movement for equality is a right. The right to vote. The right to marry. The right to not be killed. At the core of each is a struggle for respect, to be treated like a human being and to exist without prejudice or discrimination.

Legalizing gay marriage is considered a huge step in favor of LGBTQ+ rights in American history. But people often dismiss the post-legalization discrimination that occurs by assuming that gay people are “equal” now. However, the decision of nine supreme court justices cannot change a longstanding culture of internalized homophobia and discrimination.

On June 15, the Supreme Court of the US made a milestone decision: firing people on the basis of being LGBTQ+ is unconstitutional. This  case Bostock v Clayton County, clarified  the stipulations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, becoming the first national bill to do so. Though it advocates for gender and sexuality rights and ensuring people get the rights they deserve, the bill  does not cover all people and situations, which could let discrimination continue.

Bostock v Clayton County began because the Trump administration questioned whether or not Title VII extends the protection of people based on sex to protecting people based on gender identity and sexuality. Title VII, passed in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits “employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin”. In other words, people cannot be fired on the basis of things they cannot control.

While the prohibition only mentions “sex”, the interpretation is that it also bans employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, but that was not confirmed until the SCOTUS decision in June.

The Bostock v Clayton County decision is as important as the Obergefell v Hodges decision of 2015 which legalized gay marriage. Before this, the LGBTQ+ community had to rely on a “patchwork of state nondiscrimination laws,” and in 25 of the 50 states, there was no protection at all. 

Another important aspect of the decision is the grouping together of gender identity and sexual identity rights which will allow future decisions applicable to the entire LGBTQ+community. One issue, however, is how Title VII is applied. By definition, LGBTQ+ people in workplaces of less than fifteen can still be discriminated against and can still be fired.

The Religious Freedom Act of 1993 (RFRA)  may call this decision into question. RFRA prohibits the government “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion”, which means that those who are religious could theoretically say that their religion does not allow them to hire LGBTQ+ people. RFRA actually supersedes Title VII, operating as a “super statute” according to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But it is unclear as to how much the RFRA interacts with Title VII because that only applies when governments attack religious freedom, such as banning crosses.

The major conflict between the LGBTQ+ community and the government is how religious freedom interacts with human rights because many religions claim that their religious tenets allow discrimination against LGBTQ+ folk. It will be the focus of Fulton v the city of Philadelphia, a case that will examine whether religious (childrens) organizations can reject those ( LGBTQ+ parents for example), who in their view are not aligned with their doctrine. 

The case is essentially about whether gay couples can adopt children. Religious rights are constitutionally protected  in the Bill of Rights,  so what’s at stake is whether religious institutions can manipulate that right to discriminate against others.

But shouldn’t the basic right  to exist as a human being be upheld above religious rights?

Religion cannot be used as an excuse to discriminate against entire communities, especially those who are so marginalized.  Currently, the Trump administration is trying to roll back medical care for the LGBTQ+ community, which could cost lives, depending on how states respond. Which is why cases like this matter so much. Last year nine Republicans introduced the Fairness for All Act, which prohibits discrimination except when religious groups find it against their doctrine. While it is marketed as a compromise, it could possibly greenlight LGBTQ+ discrimination, making it dangerous.

The government has to explicitly give the community these rights, so people’s livelihoods and lives are not at risk. 

A government that risks its people’s lives is a government that has failed its people. 

Congress will be the next battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. The Equality Act passed in the House last year but has not come closer to becoming law. It bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation/identity in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. The bill’s sponsor, Rhode Island Democrat Representative David Cicilline is hopeful, as five years ago, such a bill wouldn’t have been heard on the floor, let alone pass the House. Sadly, the bill never made it to the Senate floor. 

While people in the Bay Area and other progressive parts of the country may assume that LGBTQ+ people have “equal for all” rights, that’s not the case on a federal level.  In the ideal world, LGBTQ+ people would unquestionably have equal rights and never would have needed additional legal protection. We cannot pretend otherwise. 

Kaavya Butaney is a sophomore at Los Altos High School in Los Altos, CA. She writes for her school newspaper, The Talon, and loves speech and debate and choir. Kaavya is an intern at India Currents.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents.

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

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