Bollywood’s brokeback

A film by Bollywood director Sanjay Sharma entitled Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun is giving India’s movie-going public its first on-screen gay kiss. This comes after a High Court ruling last year legalising homosexuality. The film’s plot explores an overtly sexual relationship between a struggling male actor and the man he finds on the way to claiming fame and fortune in the movie industry. 
Film posters bear the image of two naked young men locked in a passionate embrace. Though the High Court ruling is a significant step forward for India’s gay rights movement, the legislation still must pass through the Supreme Court. Homosexuality remains a taboo within Indian culture. 
Nevertheless, when the film is released in May, it will stand as a popular culture representation of a remarkably liberal shift in India’s public opinion and politics. Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun, or “Don’t Know Why”, is the first film in India’s history to treat homosexuality seriously.  
In another recent Bollywood film, Dostana, the two male characters must pretend to be in a gay relationship, but only to convince their landlord to allow his beautiful daughter to live with them.  Most other portrayals of homosexuality in Indian film have similarly been as stereotypes used for comic relief. 
Of course, Sharma’s film is garnering a significant amount of attention.  But the filmmaker seems to be taking it easy.  “At the moment I’m not thinking about any political or censor problems”, Sharma told the BBC. Gay rights activists have praised the film’s audacity in tackling its subject seriously, and believe it will lead to an even more free and open environment for gays in India. 
Sharma seems not to be thinking of the film as a political statement—or is at least playing this aspect down to avoid any problems. “The only thing I was particular about was that this character should not come across as a caricature or just as an object of mockery. I am truly happy with what I have chosen”, Sharma told the Times of India.
The film’s lead is Sharma’s brother Kapil, who is pursuing his role alongside the more established Bollywood stars of Zeenat Aman, Helen and Kabir Bedi. The involvement of some of Bollywood’s higher-profile actors has  already added  to the potential impact of the work through giving their explicit affirmation of the film. This is significant since Bollywood actors have huge followings.
All of this clearly draws comparisons to Ang Lee’s 2005 film Brokeback Mountain, in which Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger play rough-looking cowboys whose homosexual relationship belied stereotype. 
So, for Mr. Sharma, the next few months should be exciting.  It looks as if India is making more progressive steps toward a free and tolerant state than most others.  However, the question remains, when will a gay kiss cease entirely to be shocking?