Member of
IATO - Indian Association Of Tour Operators
ASTA - American Society of Travel Agents
TWA - Tourism Welfare Association

What does it take to portray an LGBTQIA & character on screen May 27th, 2019 from Times of India

What does it take to portray an LGBTQIA

In the late ’90s, the intimate scenes between Shabana Azmi as Radha and Nandita Das as Sita in Deepa Mehta’s Fire celebrated a shift in the relationship binaries that the Indian society had so far been accustomed to. Same-sex emotional attachments, which would earlier take careful refuge in aesthetic metaphors, needed a jolt and Fire did that with fiery passion. By the time Rituparno Ghosh and Indraneil Sengupta fanned romance on screen as Chapal Rani and Kumar in Kaushik Ganguly’s Arekti Premer Golpo in 2010, the audience had matured enough to accept same-sex love. Films dealing with homosexual relationships have walked a long way since then. The same audience that once cringed in their seats with Radha and Sita’s love-making scenes, was swayed by Madhu (Ritwick Chakraborty) and Puti’s (Riddhi Sen) love story in Nagarkirtan, which went on to win four National Film Awards last year, including the Best Actor for Riddhi.

In fact, late ’90s was dotted with some breathtaking performances by actors portraying transsexual characters. Nirmal Pandey in Amol Palekar’s Daayra, Arif Zakariya as Immi in Kalpana Lajmi’s Darmiyaan, Paresh Rawal as Tikku in Mahesh Bhatt’s Tamanna and some others essayed transgender characters with great dignity and care. “I wanted to give the character a human touch. Transgenders are usually mocked and ridiculed. They deserve dignity and compassion and that was my job. It was my chance and I tried my best to make the character look real,” said Paresh, whose performance garnered critical acclaim from several quarters.

In 2010, a homosexual professor, Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, was suspended from Aligarh Muslim University because of his sexual orientation. He was later found dead in his house, which threw open a Pandora’s box of possibilities. While the law takes its own course in finding out the cause of Siras’ death, filmmaker Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh had Manoj Bajpayee play the role of the gay professor. When asked about the role, Manoj said, “Sirus loved literature and poetry. So, for me, the focus was more on getting that element into the character than the fact that he was gay. What’s most important to convey here is that a man’s sexual preference should not matter. What’s important is that the professor was lonely and away from family rather than he being gay! When I portrayed the role, I got a great response from the audience and the character was appreciated internationally too.”


While today we get to watch some heart-wrenching same-sex love stories like Aligarh, stereotyping and ridiculing such characters have been rampant on the Indian big screen. Labelling was a big problem and directors were often insensitive about the impact their lop-sided portrayals would have on society at large. “It is not just about this community. Our society has always ridiculed specially abled people, those with stammering problems and what not! However, we are becoming sensitive now and the LGBTQIA+ community is also being treated with respect. They are part of our society and deserve to be treated right,” Paresh told us.

According to Manoj, when people have conviction, such interesting films are made. “It takes a Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das to come together and act in a film like Fire or Apurva Asrani, Hansal Mehta and Manoj Bajpayee to come on the same page and make a film like Aligarh and justify the role,” said the actor.


Kaushik Ganguly, whose Nagarkirtan saw a stupendous performance by Riddhi Sen, told us, “We’ve always used stammer, limping and effeminate nature as our comic prop. This just shows our plummeting sensibility. The time has now changed. These marginalised characters are now taking centrestage.”

Filmmaker Sanjoy Nag, who directed the National Award-winning Memories in March in 2010, thinks it is the inherent hypocrisy of our society that impacts our sensibility. “We are often okay with a gay man next door, but when we get to know that the sexual preference of my son is not straight, we get upset. While working on the film, I saw how fear ruled this community. Barely has anyone been arrested under Section 377, but the prospect of its misuse has instilled a sense of fear in society. Homophobia is universal. Wherever I went with this film, from New York to Durban, I was often asked, ‘What was the need for making this film?’ I was appalled. But I am glad that I made the film. I was told many, many homosexual people came out of closet and there lies my success,” he told us.


Long back, Kaushik’s television movie, Ushno Tar Jonno, introduced viewers in Bengal to the world of a lesbian couple. “We could not portray same-sex love openly in our popular culture, literature and so on, for a long period of time. I always thought the chemistry between Mahim and Suresh in Saratchandra Chattopadhyay’s Grihodaho could also have been love. But we never dealt with it openly. I also felt that the entire world was homophobic. As an artiste, it is important to spread empathy for this minority community so that they can come forward in mainstream professions. When my audience cried watching Nagarkirtan, I felt I was successful. I consciously do not want to make any more film dealing with the LGBTQIA+ community. All I want is the other directors and actors to come forward and make films and talk about their lives too,” Kaushik told us .

Filmmaker Onir, who has always worked on a gender-sensitive narrative in his films, thinks that ‘mainstream award functions do not often recognise good works that deal with the LGBTQIA+ community’. “Unlike Oscars and other important award shows, our mainstream awards do not often encourage or acknowledge works dealing with this community. However, with the Supreme Court’s verdict last year and this current boom of digital media, many filmmakers are coming up with sensible stories. They don’t fear censorship and hence, a lot of web-specific contents are being created,” he said.


How easy or difficult was it to portray a homosexual character on screen? Manoj Bajpayee feels that over the years our society has let go of many taboos connected with this community. He said, “I feel a country or society is never ready for anything but when people believe in something and try to spread the message with conviction, then society wakes up to it. During my growing up years, I have seen many professors, friends and people who were gay and I never felt they were any different from us. That’s what we wanted to show in our film. I’ve never really enjoyed stereotypical performances. So for me, Professor Sirus was a very passionate, intelligent human being and his sexual preference was just a part of his personality. Would you ever call the guy a straight professor? That here is a professor who is straight!”

For Indraneil Sengupta, who acted in Kaushik Ganguly’s Arekti Premer Golpo alongside Rituparno Ghosh, it wasn’t easy at all. By his own admission, his knowledge about the LGBTQIA+ community is ‘acquired’. “Honestly, it was a difficult character for me to play,” he said. “It was a bit late when I was first exposed to the idea of alternative sexuality. I grew up in Ahmedabad in the ’90s and only encountered homosexual people when I shifted to Mumbai in 1999-2000. It took time to be comfortable, but I learnt to coexist. And that is when the role came my way,” he said.

What made him say yes to the film? “The character was challenging. I decided to approach it as a love story. Ritu (Rituparno Ghosh) and Kaushik (Ganguly) spoke to me continuously and prepared me for the character. While working on the script, they also mellowed down the intimate scenes. And we did a good job. Considering my apprehension and inhibition, I am proud that I worked in that film. In fact, it helped me in many ways. Now I empathise and understand the importance of an inclusive and happy society,” he added.

While Indraneil found it tough slipping into the shoes of a homosexual man, it was simpler for Jisshu U Sengupta, who played a percussionist in Rituparno Ghosh’s Chitrangada: The Crowning Wish. For him, it was just a performance. “I am an actor and for me, it was just a performance. I saw Rituda very closely. I have friends from the community and I played my part,” the actor said. But did the film make him closer to the community? “No. I always had gay friends. I feel it’s a crime to be sympathetic towards them. Why should one be? They are like us. They live a life just like you and I,” he added.


But how significant are these roles and films in the lives of the people who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community ? Professor Manabi Bandyopadhyay , principal of Krishnagar Women’s College, who played herself in Nagarkirtan, said, “We have always been ridiculed. That’s both on screen as well as in real life. I usually do not watch popular films but I cried while watching Nagarkirtan. Shankari (Malakar) did a fantastic job. Every single day, we fight to establish the sexuality of a transwoman in real life. Kaushik has portrayed the nuances so well with his sensibility.”

Another transgender actor, Shankari Malakar, the guruma of Puti in Nagarkirtan, told us, “Transgender characters would mostly be ridiculed and shown as loud and sorry human beings. As an actor, I felt I was the best person to express my feelings. However, Riddhi, as an actor, did a fantastic job.”

But was it easy for Riddhi to give a National Award-winning performance? “The lovemaking scene was not easy. It did not come to me organically, neither was it easy for Ritwickda (Chakraborty, who played Madhu). But KG (Kaushik Ganguly) made the ambience so comforting that the shoot went on easily. While the sensitivity about the LGBTQIA+ community came from my upbringing, this film will always be special. I met these people, talked to them closely and learnt about their crisis. This evolved me as a person,” he told us.

Click here for more Recent NEWS related to Religious Places