Although Section 377 remains in place, and continues to criminalize homosexuality in India, social change is a powerful wave that cannot be stopped.
Bollywood, in particular commercial Bollywood, has been famous for love stories. The formula of boy meets girl has been applied and re-applied again and again, becoming the “norm” – with small room for change.
Breaking the “norm” and challenging the taboo of homosexuality, it is almost time for Bollywood to present a main stream, same-gender, homosexual love story.
Directed by Break Ke Baad’s Director Danish Aslam, Balaji have announced their new production, Romil and Juggal.
Portraying two men falling in love, Romil and Juggal is a love story inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the script written by Anu Menon, writer and director of London, Paris New York.
Although Romeo and Juliet is a classic love tragedy, we hope that with some twists and turns of fate, Romil and Juggal will get a happy Bollywood ending instead – however, the inside details are being kept strictly under wraps.
What has been reported though is that along with the bold, fresh storyline, Balaji will also be launching two new faces for the lead.
Danish Aslam clearly stated in an interview with Subhash K Jha, that the reason behind casting new faces is not because of any rejection from Bollywood industry stars, but for the “nature” of the film: “…it’s not because we can’t get established actors to play the two roles. We aren’t even looking at the known names to play the roles. The two main actors have to be newcomers. It’s the nature of the story.”
Homosexuality is not a new subject to Bollywood – Dostana for instance presented an “idea” of homosexuality, although humorously and where the heroes were not actually gay; homosexuality has been ridiculed and mocked in some films and portrayed negatively as a “psychotic” disease through Girlfriend.
In other words, what makes Romil and Juggal different, is that it is a love story – despite being between two men.
In the words of Aslam, “To me Romil & Juggal is just like any love story. It doesn’t matter if the lovers are both men.”
The question arises with excitement more than trepidation of: will the Bollywood audience embrace this bold move without hesitation in its entirety?
As we know, homosexuality for many within the South Asian society is a taboo and stigmatized.
Does that mean that the nature of the film will be “serious”, making homosexuality a social “issue” for the plot to pivot upon?
According to Aslam – not at all.
Aslam provokes the question of “why” homosexuality must be looked at as an issue, asking: “Why must we look at films about homosexuality as issue-based? In our cinema we tend to highlight minority communities unnecessarily. Differences don’t have to be underlined.”
In other words, perhaps people should be seen as people and experiences as universal.
Instead of placing emphasis on “homosexuality”, the “love” story is highlighted – a perspective that is certain to inspire positive social change as perhaps homosexuality needs to stop being seen as “different” to be accepted and understood.
Putting his argument into another context, Aslam referred to the Hindu- Muslim religious aspect that is now frequently portrayed in Bollywood.
Aslam drew on an example from the lead lovers of his directorial debut, Break Ke Baad: “In my first film Break Ke Baad, Imran Khan and Deepika Padukone were Hindu and Muslim. But the narrative never drew attention to this fact. Likewise Romil & Juggal would have two men in love. But their gender would never be an issue. Why underline the difference? Why not make the alternate community a part of the mainstream, at least in the popular arts?”
This comment is encouraging; although it is impossible to predict the influence of the film towards audience attitude, it is definitely a positive start to emphasize the human aspect and as people as one – a factor that Section 377 ignores.
Section 377 is an archaic colonial law that denies the right to love for many, many people through re-asserting homosexuality as abnormal, “against the order of nature”. However, it is not the passing of the law that has influenced Aslam to sign on the film. Aslam reportedly stated that the film’s script had been read to him on “the day that the Supreme Court refused to decriminalize Article 377.”
The Director pointed out the co-incidence, yet pin-pointed that he would have still done the film regardless of the re-criminalization.
This is the attitude much needed for LGBTQ rights as the discrimination and prejudice towards homosexuality has strongly been present prior to the return of Section 377.
It is not just the law that needs to change, but also society’s mentality towards LGBTQ persons: love needs to be understood as love.
It seems through Aslam’s comments that the film plans to treat homosexuals as people and homosexuality as love – and if any problems are to arise in this revolutionary Bollywood love story, it seems they will be the same as for any other Bollywood couple: to master that uniting, confusing, bittersweet thing called “love”.
Yes, love is the same for all.