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Malayam movies coming out of the closet

Shades of gay

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ON EQUAL FOOTING: The first Malayalam film that addressed lesbianism openly was Ligy J Pullappally's 2004 movie 'Sancharram' (above). A still from 'Mumbai Police' (below)

Two recent mainstream Malayalam movies have gay characters. While some say it's a sign of the industry coming out of the closet, critics say the portrayals are frivolous.

It's a fleeting scene, swathed in darkness, and but it has thrown a shaft of light on an issue that's often ignored. The climax of the recently released Malayalam film Mumbai Police is a hazy shot of lovemaking between two male actors. The act leads to the murder of a police officer, a twist on which the entire tale hangs.

Prithviraj plays Anthony Moses, a gay police officer, who kills his friend and fellow police officer Aryan (played by Jayasurya ) when he discovers the truth about his sexuality. The film, the scene, and the character of Anthony Moses have sparked quite a bit of discussion since Malayalam cinema has never before portrayed a hero as gay.

Heroes in mainstream Malayalam cinema have always personified macho perfection. They thrash bad guys, and romance beauties. So, a gay character is quite a significant departure.

However, the filmmakers say they weren't trying to stir up discussions of any kind. "We wanted a different reason other than money or women that would lead a man to kill his best friend. So we decided to make the character of Anthony Moses gay, " says director Roshan Andrews. The scene, despite its brevity, was filmed behind closed doors in 74 shots. The scene was a surprise even to the assistant directors.

Sanjay, who scripted the film with his brother Bobby, says they weren't trying to break new ground. "The film is based on the Freudian theory that any person who exhibits extreme manliness is hiding something, and the moment there is danger of his secret being revealed, he will go to any extent, including murder. We have gay friends and didn't see it as unnatural that Prithvi's character was gay, " says Sanjay.

The makers might have been searching for a new motive for murder, but critics believe that it's a sign of Malayalam cinema opening up. "There might be varying views on how well the scene reflected a gay character. But, it shows that Malayalam cinema is no longer closing its eyes to something that has always existed in society, " says film critic CS Venkiteswaran.

The depiction of homosexuality in Malayalam cinema has always been timid. One of the earliest dates back to the 1978 film Randu Penkuttikal (Two Girls), directed by Mohan. The film was inspired by a lesbian novel Randu Penkuttikalude Katha (The Tale of Two Girls), and shows a close relationship between two girls. But, it ends with both marrying men, and one of the characters dismissing their relationship as "just a phase".

In 1986, Padmarajan made a film that hinted at a lesbian relationship between the lead characters, Desadanakili Karayarilla (Migratory Birds Don't Cry). The leads were two runaway school girls, one of whom dressed like a boy. The sight of her friend's proximity to a man causes the girl emotional distress. However, homosexuality is just an under-current in the film.

The first Malayalam film that probably addressed lesbianism openly was Ligy J Pullappally's 2004 movie Sancharram (Travel) but it was confined to art circles and never really came into the mainstream.
Another director who has had gay characters is Shyamaprasad. In an earlier film Rithu, the male character lines his eyes with kajal and acts effeminate. His latest movie English repeats the act without the kajal and the girlish looks. "I had studied in the UK and had known gay men. For me, it was just another aspect of a character, " says Shyamaprasad. "I wasn't trying to do anything new. "

Others say the portrayal of homosexuality in Malayalam cinema is not accurate. "The recent depictions are frivolous. People undergo a serious conflict in real life when coming to terms with their sexuality and then coming out with it to the world. None of these films have even touched on the real crisis of existence, which is deeper and lasting, " says a filmmaker.

In Mumbai Police, the fact that Anthony is gay comes as a shock to Aryan. In English, a wife abandons her husband after she finds out that he is gay. "This is exactly what the society does to gays. The films don't accomplish anything. We need films that talk about inclusion of homosexuals in a society, " says a critic.

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