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Indian Cinema and its Portrayal of the LGBTQ+ Community

Updated: Jun 18, 2020

By: Inika Harikrishnan

Cinema, similar to all other forms of art is a part of social realism and creating a change in society. Being one of the most influential tools, cinema has a powerful impact on society and the way it thinks. The film industry has given us decades of entertainment, however has provided its unhealthy share of blatant homophobia and transphobia too.

While men wearing over the top clothing and makeup have been used to draw laughs in a lot of mainstream movies, homosexuality has been getting a rather tone-deaf treatment on the silver screen. There are articles all over the Internet on what they call ‘great’ LGBT films, but after watching them you will realize that almost all queer characters are portrayed as laughing stocks or in negative (almost villain-like) roles. Another very common motif is the effeminacy of gay characters. An example would be Suresh Menon who kept playing roles of an over-animated, richly dressed effeminate gay person in movies like Dostana, Kal Ho Na Ho and Partner. Being gay and being effeminate is not mutually inclusive. Why is that so difficult for filmmakers to understand?

Representing the transgender community wrong has for long been a problematic area for Bollywood movies as well. The way that they are portrayed, is nothing more than a superficial display of inclusion. If not a villain, then they would almost always be there for tasteless comic reliefs – either to crack the jokes or be at its receiving end. But what is worse than making a trans person stereotypically a villain or comedian? Not giving them any base of character at all. The most prominent aspect of it is cisgender male cross-dressing which is thrown into movies where it isn’t needed at all.

When it comes to lesbian characters and relationships, there is just a handful of movies that exist but most of them don’t stereotype or misrepresent these characters.

How many of us actually know that the term is actually LGBTQIA+? Although we only reached the first two to three letters, and that too with an overwhelming struggle coupled with intense homophobia and transphobia, we still have a long way to go before we discuss the untouched members of the community. While there are movies which have done a great job of portraying the queer community, it is far from enough, especially now when cultural and social inclusivity is a big factor in the entertainment industry. Movies and pop culture are a mirror of society and the same is true for the opposite as well. Filmmakers hold a huge responsibility in being sensitive, empathetic and rational while attempting to make films on the said theme and as (clearly) difficult as they find it, treating people with respect and empathy doesn’t really require much effort.

Happy Pride Month everyone!

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