In my previous work as a software professional, I often had the task of taking foreigners to tourist destinations when they were visiting our office in Bengaluru. I remember being surprised by men holding hands or wrapping their arms over their shoulders. They would be surprised and remark, “There must be a strong gay community in India, right.” I would quickly clarify that this is quite common in India. That would leave them more confused, because men and women in India never openly express their love by kissing or holding hands, they knew that.
Then there is the example of “foreign returns” who humorously refuse to hold hands with their friends as before. Similarly, couples who have returned from abroad would get their ears into being intimate at home in front of their elders.
These incidents came to mind quickly when SS Rajamouli’s pan-Indian film ‘RRR’ was recently labeled a ‘gay film’ by Western critics and the like. The two men, who promised to lay down their lives for each other, held hands and rode their bikes together, suggested something more than Platonic. The scenes between them had more ‘sparks’ compared to their time compared to their respective women’s romantic interests on screen. The kiss was the only thing that made it a perfect gay film, ace filmmaker Ram Gopal Verma joked on Twitter after the discussion broke out.
So is there really more in “RRR” than it seems at first glance?
Let me explain this by drawing conclusions from my childhood when I was still dealing with my sexuality. Despite being not well versed in Hindi, I watched “Sholay” with my friends many times. While my friends were thrilled with the dance numbers, duels and famous points of the film (‘Arey O Sambha’), I was quietly mesmerized by the cult song ‘Yeh Dosti’. Looking at the chemistry between Amitabha Bachchan and Dharmendra, I was excited and gently helpless. That is, I was not sure in confessing my feelings to my friends. The company was not so progressive at the time.
Like what I felt about the friendship between Jaie and Veera in ‘Sholay’, others could feel the same when watching the proximity of Jr NTR and Ram Charan in ‘RRR’. Another work of art that comes to mind is “Sangya Balya”, a famous Kannada game that was translated into film. Here, the strong friendship between the two boys is broken when a woman enters the life of one of the boys. Such is the grief that the other boy suggests that the couple should be murdered. But its author does not allow gay images and subtext in the story because it is seen against Indian culture.
Now the question arises as to whether Rajamouli and Ramesh Sippy of ‘Sholay’ wanted to tell a story about gay love? I think not. Especially when you look at their previous films, which all celebrate Indian culture. I read about these films that they show the silent desires of Indian men. It’s a way of thinking for many Indian men to hide their gay feelings for fear of being asked about their masculinity. Look at my life. Many men who have had a physical relationship with me are now married and have children. When they are with me today, they are behaving like ‘decent men’.
And so filmmakers in their films, albeit indirectly or unknowingly, bring to their films queerness, very widespread.
To sum it up, I feel that this debate and debate have arisen because of cultural differences, but I welcome the views of people in the West as well as others.
(The author is a novelist and the first openly gay writer in Kannada).