Kumam Davidson reviews the short film Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh in Bombay Talkies
People have always resented Karan Johar’s stereotypical portrayal of homosexuality in his films. From Kal Ho Na Ho to Student of the Year, homosexuality has been used to induce laughter in K. Jo’s movies, leading to ridicule and mockery. It is true that some gays are effeminate but portraying effeminacy as the only trait of gays in a work of art that goes across multiplexes and cities is problematic and misleading. This has been Johar’s problem while dealing with homosexuality. However, “Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh” in Bombay Talkies has come out as a matured text on homosexuality.
This is a short film about how people cope with homosexuality; those who are themselves homosexual and those related to them. It is also about a generational gap between a gay man who is young and open and a middle-aged married man who is closeted. The film shows how their families negotiate with their homosexuality. It is set in contemporary Mumbai, but it can be any other urban space.
Avinash (Saqib Saleem) screams at his father that he is gay and walks out of his family. He throws one of the most pertinent questions to the educated class of his father’s generation: If educated, why can you not understand homosexuality? This question is not just for Avinash’s father, but to the fathers and mothers of this nation across class. And perhaps this is the most important question today.
Dev (Randeep Hooda) cannot accept homosexuality because he thinks it compromises one’s manhood, family and social values. This is a typical mindset which has its roots in heterosexuality where notions of masculinity and femininity are strict. And this is what the film is trying to convey to the audience, the society. We live with some fundamental ideological flaws and the flaws need to be understood.
Gayatri (Rani Mukherjee) is smart and successful at work. But she is unhappy and quite frustrated with her married life. Like a typical wife she assumes that a lack in her turns the married life cold. She gives up all these unnecessary blames at the end and goes on to start anew in life. Everything takes a new turn when Avinash comes to their lives, intrudes their personal relationship and spaces.
The film is a lot about breaking stereotypes, social norms, gender roles, and of course about taking forward the discussion on homosexuality to a different level. Avinash steals the show with his bold and rebellious acts. In one scene, Avinash goes on to hug and kiss Dev in the neck in front of people in the office. This is crucial. It is about questioning the assumption that it is not pleasant or unacceptable for two men to perform such an act in public. It is about claiming legitimacy of being gay and to be cool about it in public. The strict structure of heterosexuality is already dismantled.
In short, the film scores high in terms of political radicalism of homosexuality. The length definitely limits the potential of the film. It can do much better in a full-fledged film. Nonetheless, a mainstream cinema has portrayed two men kissing onscreen to the discomfort of many audience. They are not even stereotypically effeminate. It is a good treat that comes as a part of celebrating hundred years of Indian Cinema.
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