There is a gay kiss of death in Bollywood.
That seems to be the clear suggestion of veteran film critic and journalist Subhash K Jha.
Jha has come up with a gallery of actors whose careers never “recovered” from a gay role.
Or so the article alleges, blithely making a cause-effect correlation without offering up an iota of substantiating proof.
None of the actors are quoted to ask if they think that’s true. Or whether Rahul Bose and Sanjay Suri even think they “lost their career after playing gay.”Time Magazine did call Bose the “superstar of Indian arthouse cinema” but obviously that counts for nothing since he’s not starring in Bajrangi Bhaijaan. And Sanjay Suri’s I AM went to Cannes but apparently his career never “survived the shock” of playing an HIV-positive swimmer in My Brother Nikhil.
The article says Arjun Mathur who played gay in two short films directed by Farhan Akhtar and Zoya Akhtar never made it because producers and directors “believed Arjun was actually gay and shied away from casting him” but does not quote any filmmaker to back it up. Nor does it quote a single filmmaker to suggest that any of these actors had been typecast as gay thanks to one role in one film, even a short film, and had become some sort of box-office poison.
But the article informs us authoritatively that Saqib Saleem of Bombay Talkiesfound his career “wiped away” after smooching Randeep Hooda’s character in the film. Not only that Saqib’s sister Huma Qureshi isn’t “exactly flooded with offers” thanks to that gay turn in Dedh Ishqiya. Nandita Das who started her career with Fire seems to have done fine but she does not get a mention.
This is just a dose of old-fashioned gay fearmongering, as if scores of actors do not see their careers fade or hiccup all the time for all kinds of reasons. Even worse the article disguises its homophobia with some progressive handwringing.
“We may brag and boast about being a progressive nation with a cool regard for alternate sexuality,” begins the article. “However the reality is otherwise.”
And then it proceeds to make the very point it is pretending to decry.
It is in effect a pink-letter warning to all aspiring actors out there. If you do not want to be an “Arjun Mathur” don’t even think about playing a gay role even in a short film by someone like Zoya Akhtar.
It’s not that Bollywood is taking risks every day in the stories it tells. But it has made some progress when it comes to gay issues with a smattering of gay characters in films like Luck By Chance or Honeymoon Travels who are not there as the new Parsee—an affected stereotype serving as the butt of jokes. Kirron Kher said in an interview Bollywood is filled with closeted gays who are pretending to be straight. But she thinks films can grapple with stigma. “Films help minorities. The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Singh Is King have been the ‘face’ of the Sikh community in Bollywood and helped us move on from portraying Sardars are ‘funny characters.’”
But this article delivers a warning to directors. If you are thinking about exploring alternate sexuality themes in your films, think again. The film will flop and no sensible actor who cares two bits about their own career will want to come within miles of it.
At the same time it is also effectively branding these actors with a big G statutory warning on their forehead—Beware! Has played a GAY on screen. Casting in your film might prove dangerous to your box-office life.
There are only two lessons you can derive from this. Either you have to only play faux-gay like John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan or you have to have enough films on your resume already that it can withstand a bit of “gay shock” ala Randeep Hooda in Bombay Talkies.
Who knows what the actors named in the story think about the epitaphs the article blithely delivers to their careers. But one thing is clear. There’s enough substantiated, in-your-face overt homophobia out there in society to not need an article that connects dots at will to cook up the big gay scare.
Gays have been blamed for many different things—9/11, tsunami, Hurricane Katrina. Now we can apparently add some Bollywood acting careers to the list.
Sandip Roy is the Culture Editor for Firstpost.com. A version of this story appeared on Firstpost.com.