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The telly lathers up LGBT
In a fitted shirt and matching tie, architect Shaurya Khanna leans against his black Mercedes at a construction site. He is talking to his colleague, Shankar, whom he has summoned to discuss a serious problem. But Shaurya finds himself imagining Shankar topless, hair windblown, eyes hooded and sending out sulphurous stares to the sounds of I Am In Love, as he walks towards him on Ekta Kapoor's Twilight adaptation of Pyaar Kii Ye Ek Kahani on Star One.
On another channel, an expletive-spouting, heavily muscled, married-to-awoman character called Gaurav confesses his love to his same-sex partner Karan. "Main tane ghana prem karoon hoon, Karan (I love you a lot, Karan), " says Gaurav in Star Plus's Maryada Lekin Kab Tak.
Child marriage, female infanticide, domestic violence and farmer suicides as subjects of social revolution on television are passê. Star's Maryada Lekin Kab Tak and Pyaar Kii Ye Ek Kahani have now pounced on homosexuality. "This subject is supposed to be taboo, so we said, 'Chalo, let's try it', " says the director of Maryada, Imtiyaz Punjabi. Maryada, set in a conservative Haryanvi family, has just revealed that the oldest son in the family is gay and has a lover and that's why his marriage isn't working. The last episode even featured a kiss - a forehead kiss, but at least in the vicinity of lips. "Two people can love each other, how you present the relationship is important, so we have focused on the emotional rather than the physical aspect. We can't keep running scared of bold topics. " Star's creative director (fiction) Suzana Ghai says, "It is time to push the envelope and explore new stories no matter how edgy they may be. "
While homosexuality is neither new nor edgy, the only comforting factor is that the queer characters haven't been portrayed as Bobby Darling caricatures. They are neither effeminate like the gay characters in films like Fashion nor stereotypical like those in Dostana. When Shaurya on the desi Twilight turned gay, and the girl who was in love with him was told that Shaurya liked someone called Shankarina (to protect his identity as a gay person ), the channel was flooded with responses from heart-broken girls.
But Pallav Patankar, HIV Aids director at Humsafar Trust, says these are far from role model stories. "We don't believe that LGBT rights should be secured at the cost of someone's else rights, " he says, referring to the number of unsuspecting partners that are forced into unfair marriages with LGBT people. "I won't be surprised if after a couple of episodes, the gay angle is dropped and the partner becomes 'bhai jaisa', " he says. In the desi Twilight show, for instance, a few episodes after Shaurya came out of the closet, the actor Gautam Gulati left the show and the character was phased out.
Karan Singh, who plays the role of Gaurav's gay partner in Maryada, says the biggest challenge was to find a way to underline his homosexuality. "It is entirely emotional, " he says. Television screenplay writer Sharad Tripathi knows that television is notorious for exploiting "hot issues" as mere novel backdrops, but this time, he predicts, it's not going to work. "How will you explain such a complex concept to children who watch this show?" he asks.
LGBT rights activist Nitin Karani says he doesn't have a problem with TV using homosexuality as a novel backdrop. "If this show manages to depict these issues in an empathetic manner, perhaps with the character standing up to the pressures for a hetrosexual marriage, it's acceptable, " he says.
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