It’s been two years since the landmark decision came from the Indian Supreme Court. In 2018, section 377 was abolished — a law that criminalized gay sex as an “unnatural offense” that could be punished by an incarceration period of 10 years. The ruling, one that was a long time coming, was not only a significant sign to all members of the LGBTQ+ community in India — but a call of action for the entire country to become more accepting of a vital aspect of identity.
While the decision was undoubtedly historic and crucial, it’s long overdue. Compared to the United States, where gay sex was legalized in 2003 and the United Kingdom in 1967, India is very far behind on catching up on the curve of LGBTQ+ rights.
Perhaps this time difference in acceptance and equality can be attributed to several aspects such as culture, general stigma, and overall unwillingness to change. However, the 2018 decision has resulted in shifting towards having more open conversations about homosexuality in Indian culture. In fact, since the decision, two blockbuster Bollywood movies have been produced featuring LGBTQ+ characters.
In 2019, “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga” featuring Anil Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, and Juhi Chawla broke ground for representation in the industry. The film has all the trademark assets of a classic Bollywood movie — but it’s also authentic and true to a lesbian couple’s experience in Punjab. Following it, in 2020, “Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan” with Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar is a comedic and light-hearted take about two gay men trying to navigate their relationship around an unaccepting family. While the instances are grim, the story unfolds in a way that slowly eases the audience into acceptance.
These movies are standouts in the past two years — revolving entirely around characters directly involved in the LGBTQ+ community. Over the years, there have been others that showcase the topic as well — “Bombay Talkies,” “Kapoor and Sons,” and “My Brother Nikhil.”
And while these movies are a major step forward in promoting the conversation of sexual orientation equality, Bollywood and India still have work to do. On the one hand, having only enough films to count on one hand which cover this matter is not enough. Both of the above movies are examples of educational tools for the greater Indian community. In a country where Bollywood is the primary industry, films like these are not only important but crucial to stimulate conversations about acceptance and acknowledgment of privilege.
A step forward in promoting and fostering this conversation is casting actual actors and actresses who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as directors — who are authentically equipped to tell these important stories. There is an unspoken power to stories that are straight from the source. Indian people wouldn’t trust white directors to tell their stories — and the same instance applies here. Another idea is to hold public forums with popular directors or actors so they can listen to the stories of LGBTQ+ community members in India. Art — in it’s truest form — should convey some sort of truth, have some sort of authenticity to it. For the sake of proper adaptation and representation, this truth is crucial.
India has come far, but it can continue to grow and promote change and acceptance across the country and for all of its citizens. Bollywood is, no doubt, an impactful industry. It is an industry that is small, and for the brave voices that have already spoken up for this movement— they know how significant representation is.
As Shah Rukh Khan so famously said in “Om Shanti Om” — the story is not over yet.