New Delhi - Eschewing
the typical Bollywood storyline of boy meets girl and struggles
to marry in the face of family opposition, a new film approaches
things differently - with a gay couple.
Touted as India's first gay male romantic comedy, "Shubh
Mangal Zyada Saavdhan" ("Be Extra Careful About Marriage") stars
popular actor Ayushmann Khurrana as an openly gay man, who
battles conservative attitudes to be with his boyfriend.
Packed with romantic scenes including a kiss between the
male leads, the film offers a rare portrait of same-sex love in
a small town in India, which legalised gay sex in 2018.
"The point was not being apologetic about (gay love); not
depicting it as a problem, not take it as a disease," director
Hitesh Kewalya told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone,
ahead of the film's release on Friday.
LGBT+ people are rarely represented in Bollywood and in
cameo roles often cast as crude caricatures added for cheap
But since India scrapped the ban on gay sex, depictions of
LGBT+ people on television have started to shift from mocking
stereotypes to including gay men on dating shows and drag queens
in a singing competition.
Arthouse films with smaller audiences have sensitively
depicted lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender stories such as
"My Brother Nikhil" which tells the story of gay man's struggle
with AIDS and the 2014 drama film "Margarita With A Straw".
Bollywood's first major LGBT+ film was released last year
about a lesbian couple though critics said its same-sex
references were subdued.
"Our industry, unfortunately, has survived on stereotypes
... and I didn't want to do that. That was my biggest
responsibility," said Kewalya about his directorial debut.
"I wanted to break every stereotype using this platform."
Despite fears of a backlash, responses to the film's trailer
- viewed more than 51 million times - have been positive with a
leading Bollywood magazine calling it "hilarious and
The film is backed by some of Bollywood's biggest producers
and 39-year-old Kewalya said it would be the first mainstream
commercial movie to openly explore a same-sex relationship.
He said the Supreme Court's ruling on gay sex had allowed
him to be more upfront with some scenes, including the kiss,
which he feared could be cut by censors.
But homosexuality in the country remains taboo, with
discrimination and abuse against LGBT+ widespread. Outside
cities, it can be worse with threats of violence, brutality and
Parental acceptance is also a challenge.
This is reflected in the film, which shows one of the
families struggling to come to terms with their son's sexual
orientation and pressuring him to marry a woman.
In one scene, Khurrana's character is seen strutting across
a terrace, wearing a rainbow cape and announcing with a
megaphone that his partner's father suffers from homophobia, "a
disease with no cure".
This is not Kewalya's first attempt at tackling a taboo
topic. In 2017 he wrote "Shubh Mangal Saavdhan" ("Beware of
Marriage"), a film about erectile dysfunction.
"Be Extra Careful About Marriage" draws on his own
experiences at design school, where he first interacted with
LGBT+ people and started to understand their struggles.
Since the release of the trailer in January, Kewalya said he
had received scores of messages from LGBT+ Indians.
One gay person told Kewalya that he would take his parents
to watch the film and then come out to them.
"If such things happen ... that will be the success of the
film more than anything else," the father-of-one said.