The queer community has been getting a pie of its existence in the Indian cinema for over several years now, albeit on the lines of gay parody. But the depiction of the alternate sexuality in cinema’s smaller cousin, the idiot box, in India is no less than an evolving story in itself.
One of the earliest forms of appearance of the community happened way back in the early nineties or late eighties of last century when we saw the mythological character ‘Shikhandi’, played by Kanwarjit Paintal (better known as Paintal) in one of the most viewed TV series of the world-Mahabharat. The popular scene depicts Shikhandi, who in his earlier birth was a woman Amba, appearing before Bhisma-the supreme commander of the Kauravas. Amba was insulted by the eternal godfather in Mahabharata, Bhisma, and she vowed to take revenge. Bhisma recognizing Shikhandi, refused to fight against a woman and eventually laid down his arms. The character made reappearance in the mid-nineties when there were several reruns of the same TV series.
With the advent of a new century the Indian TV audience began to be bombarded by the saas-bahu (mother-in-law-daughter-in-law) saga from the production house managed by Ekta Kapoor. Amidst the plot of conspiracies and counter-conspiracies of these TV shows, one of the most known faces in the queer community, Bobbie Darling made a short but very effective appearance in Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. The character she depicted was more on the hilarious side though.
As the decade progressed, the commercial aspect of TV viewing in the form of TRPs began to rule the roost. The reality shows became a part and parcel of TV channels to garner more TRPs. It is in one of these reality shows, the first season of Bigg Boss that was aired on Sony TV to be exact, Bobbie Darling made an appearance. Thanks to her appearance in both the TV shows mentioned above, she became a house-hold name in India.
One of the notable presences of the queer community has come not from north India but down south in Tamil Nadu. Rose, in her early thirties is India’s first transgender TV talk show host. She has hosted Ippadikku Rose on Vijay TV, owned by the media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. She is widely regarded as Oprah Winfrey of the south.
A few TV ads have appeared to highlight the progressive concept the queer community is so much struggling for. A Hindustan Times TV ad shows a curious but homophobic man being hit on the head by a newspaper after seeing two homosexual men exchanging a romantic moment at a restaurant. This abrupt beating on the head with the help of a newspaper is being done to shed one’s homophobic attitude.
In the last few years, the appearance of at least one person from the queer community in any reality show has almost become a regular feature. Last year we saw the renowned Hijra activist, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, appearing in Sach Ka Saamna, which was aired on Star Plus, to face a volley of questions concerning her personal life from the host Rajeev Khandelwal. Her sheer grit and the revelation of her well guarded life created a huge interest across India. She reappeared earlier this year in another reality show, Raaz Pichhle Janam Ka. This show tries to portray one’s life before the present life. She revealed that in her earlier birth she was born as a man in the year 1879 in Egypt. She had rebelled against her society’s norms then and ventured into sea. Disowned by her parents then, she met with her death in a ship wreck. She conveyed to the presenter, Ravi Kishen, that before coming to her present life she had requested the Almighty to give her present form to her, to understand what it takes to be different from the rest. Although the veracity of this reality show is still unknown, the presence of a queer is really a point to reckon with.
Since last year, Bigg Boss, the Indian version of Big Brother, seems to have adopted a stand to keep a queer in the house for every season. It was the turn of the celebrity fashion designer, Rohit Verma previous year. The bithching and bickering he unleashed upon the celebrity couple of Tanaaz and Bhakhtyar made him one of the leading TRP pullers of the show, along with filmmaker Kamal Rashid Khan. The scene in which Rohit is punished to spend a considerable part of a day inside a huge cage hung from a crane as punishment for his misdeeds in the house attracted a considerable amount of viewers. The reality show in its present season, which started on 3rd October, made Ali Saleem, best known by his alter ego Begum Nawazish Ali, enter the house. Although Begum has now been evicted, his presence inside in the house was not dull, if not the most entertaining.
A few months ago another reality show, Emotional Athyachar, showed Bobby Darling breaking from her boy friend after getting to see his infidelity. Recently, it also featured an episode where a young gay man, in his early twenties, broke-up from his boy-friend, who simply did not believe in a monogamous relationship. The episode almost ended in a violent fight between the two men.
The first season of Axe Ur Ex on Channel-V featured a gay-relationship in its season finale. The participant, gay by sexuality, made his ex-beau almost cry by enacting a couple of pranks with the help of the program’s producers.
Recently, the controversial reality show of Rakhi Ka Insaaf, aired on Imagine TV, gave a chance to Shri-a queer from UP who was beaten by his own family members, to speak about his sexuality. The episode ended with him being accepted by his parents, although his elder brother seemed to have boycotted him.
Unlike these reality shows, some popular TV shows continue to portray the queer community on the lines of the same old gay parody. Recently, an episode of Baat Hamaari Pakki Hai on Sony TV showed the hero getting attracted towards a man under the spell of a magic trick and almost ending up kissing the man in front of his in-laws and parents. The mother of the hero even insists on him being treated by a doctor to treat any level of homosexuality he has.
Whatever it is, a scripted or a gay parody storyline, Indian TV seems to have caught the section of queer community as its viewers. Hopefully, we would see the positive aspect of the community being shown in the Indian idiot box in the coming months.