Karan Johar famously said that those three words will be left unsaid. Well, social media is buzzing but people are not wondering what those three words would be. I AM GAY, he spelt it out without spelling it out. He brought the issue out of the closet through his art and craft to a level that he doesn’t even need to spell it out. Yes, many of us LGBTIQ people hated the way he portrayed gay people, many loved it too. But one thing is unquestionable – there are many who explored this subject, but it took a Johar to get homosexuality out of the closet and make it a thing in mainstream commercial cinema, with leading actors from the tinsel town.
Karan doesn’t owe the world a coming out. I don’t want to assume that it is easy for a him to come out, because he is rich and famous. Being rich and famous may present its own share of risks in fact. Like say, no political party comes outside my door to beat me up. No one tries to fix me up in some casting couch scandal, where the real intent was casual consensual sex. There are fears that he has, genuine ones, of course. We would counsel anyone who is struggling with their fears, I don’t see why we needn’t look at Karan in the same light. Let’s spare Karan. Please. He could stay comfortably in his transparent glass closet forever and ever.
The question we should be asking though, is something else. Why should it be so difficult for anyone famous to come out? And if people don’t come out, how will the movement steer ahead?
Karan makes a blanket statement that he fears that the law is against him, and thus gives an impression unintentionally, that people can be jailed for being gay. That’s incorrect, Karan. I am a flaring homosexual and mind you, I am not writing this post from jail.
The point I am raising is something more critical. What would it take for Bollywood to come out of the closet? There are enough “out” celebrities in the west. Right from Ellen De Generes and Ellen Page to Jim Parsons and Neil Patrick Harris. How did they come out of the closet? Didn’t they have the same fears then?
We are not missing a Karan Johar in our pride parades. Though we would love to have him around. We will still have a lot of fun with or without a-listers. But it is undisputed that people in cinema have a greater capacity to mobilise people. This is a country where Salman pulls a towel from between his legs and does some pelvic thrusts while towelling his groin, and that becomes an iconic Bollywood step.
When celebrities, who have such great power to influence, do not do so, the movement falls short of being propelled with jet speed. I can’t sit on my couch and blame them. I understand their struggles and empathise. But there needs to be a discussion on this in the creamy layer. We have exactly two and a half men in Bollywood who are out of the closet. Onir for one, who made films like My Brother Nikhil and the National Award winner I Am. I remember sitting with him in a TV studio shooting for a show titled Life’s Like That, almost a decade ago and he made no attempt to hide that he is gay. Last year, Apurva Asrani, the critically acclaimed editor and screenwriter, came out of the closet too. I realise that one could be quick to hit back at them to suggest that they came out just as a publicity gimmick for their films. I know both Onir and Apurva personally and also the fact that they had no such agenda. But, that doesn’t mean they had no fear.
When we were casting for Amen, my gay themed film, based on my life, no actor was willing to play gay on screen. They feared stereotyping. They feared getting caught in the web of gay casting directors, who would seek sexual favours. The role was finally essayed by Karan Mehra and Jitin Gulati. These two actors were applauded for playing a very gay role later. Nothing devastatingly wrong happened to their careers. If at all, Jitin made it to Dhoni, 24 and other films. Karan too made it to Ragini MMS and other films.
Why is Bollywood so scared to come out of the closet then? Why are celebrities so divorced from the gay rights movement? Why can’t they step out from their tweets and become real for a change? 28 January is the Bombay pride march. I would love to walk beside a Bollywood boy or girl. Where they walk not as walking tweets, but as one of us.
I believe in change. I believe things would get better in Bollywood. Not because –dream - I can, but because – dream, I must.