“A Straight Proposal” is a play by Happy Ranajit about a gay man’s life narrated through his diary. It was successfully staged to a houseful audience at the Sri Ram Centre in Mandi House, New Delhi on the 19th of May, 2014. As much as the play is about homosexual relationships, love, betrayal and hope, it also reminds the audience of the almost-chronological trajectory of the queer movement in India. For instance, Ritesh dies on the exact same date that the Supreme Court of India upheld Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizing alternate sexualities, on the 11th of December, 2013.
Ritesh, the main protagonist of the play is a closeted homosexual. He was raised in a typically authoritative Indian military family. The story begins with his arrival in the US to meet his brother who lives there. However a story with important consequences awaits Ritesh. He encounters a friend Dhruv in a dimly-lit gay club in New York. Ritesh stays the night at his friend’s place waiting for his flight the next morning (which he eventually misses). Dhruv reads his diary through the night. What comes out of the diary is Ritesh’s memory- his memory of his own life as a homosexual which the rest of the world has no idea about. Therein are his love stories, romantic yet painful. He wants to forget them, yet he cannot. They haunt him like a nightmare. Yet he cannot give them up because, even as they haunt him, he cherishes them. They constitute his identity, even his life. At the risk of generalising, one can read the story as a metaphor for homosexual life in India.
The next day, while Dhruv savours Ritesh’s home-made dal in his flat, he suddenly becomes ecstatic about it. As they are embracing each other, they realise that they are in love. Ritesh returns hoping to tell his parents about his sexual orientation, his love for Dhruv and their plan to settle down in India together. But a more tragic outcome awaits both of them. Ritesh doubts that he might have been infected with HIV by a man he’d dated for a while and who’d apparently died of it. Dhruv comes to India, not to realise their dream but to attend the funeral of the man he loves. What remains intriguing is the nature of Ritesh’s death. Is it suicide? Is it murder? Does his death have anything to do with the SC judgement on December 11? These are crucial questions which the play leaves open to interpretation. But one thing is clear: he doesn’t die from HIV or AIDS, the clichéd, highly stereotypical and tragic end to the lives of homosexuals, because his medical report which Dhruv brings, proves to be negative.
Overall the play uses many clichéd tropes: cruising, a ruckus with the police, anonymous online dating, closet politics, and most importantly, HIV/AIDS. The death of one of Ritesh’s anonymous lovers from the disease has shaken him up for life. The much talked about discourse on HIV/AIDS and homosexuality once again finds a place here. The queer movement in India and the legal trajectory is also consciously incorporated. The great Indian families’ response to homosexuality is used as both humour and a crucial point of discussion. There are good stage settings, a lot of music (both background and off background) in the play and occasional references to Bollywood tracks (once again the problematic epitomised marker of India). There are few terrific performances by some actors and doses of comic relief through humour and puns.
Lastly, the team deserves a standing ovation for having done this kind of play, especially in the context of the post-election results.
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