Representation of Homosexuals (LGBT) in Indian Literature, Media and Cinema

May 22nd, 201210:56 am @    


This article is aimed at the socio-legal study of the representation of Homosexuals (LGBT) in the literature, media, and cinema with respect to Indian society. Homosexuality became very much contentious because of the representation it got through media and because of media’s attention given to this issue, people got inspirations and started showing their concern through there writings which in a way gave representation to homosexuality n literature. Contribution of these two fields in giving representation to homosexuality gave directors an opportunity to direct movies in the controversial issues going around thus giving representation to homosexuals in film industry.

Representation of LGBT Community in Litreture

Throughout Vedic literature, the sex or gender of the human being is clearly divided into three separate categories according to prakriti or nature. These are: pumsprakriti[1] or male, striprakriti or female, and tritiyaprakriti[2] or the third sex. Generally the word “sex” refers to biological sex and “gender” to psychological behavior and identity. People of the third sex are analyzed in the Kama Sutra[3] and broken down into several categories that are still visible today and generally referred to as gay males and lesbians. While gay males and lesbians are the most prominent members of this category, it also includes other types of people such as transgender and the intersexes.[4] The third sex in Kama sutra is described as a natural mixing or combination of the male and female natures to the point in which they can no longer be categorized as male or female in the traditional sense of the word. The example of mixing black and white paint can be used, wherein the resulting color, gray, in all its many shades, can no longer be considered either black or white although it is simply a combination of both. Third-gender citizens were neither persecuted nor denied basic rights. Gay men could either blend into society as ordinary males or they could dress and behave as females, living as transvestites. They are especially mentioned as being expert in dancing, singing and acting, as barbers or hairstylists, masseurs, and house servants. Transvestites[5] were invited to attend all birth, marriage, and religious ceremonies as their presence was a symbol of good luck and considered to be auspicious. This very feature gave homosexuals a social representation in the society. Lesbians were known as svairini or independent women and were permitted to earn their own livelihood. They were not expected to accept a husband. Citizens of the third sex represented only a very small portion of the overall population, which most estimates place at approximately 5 percent.[6] Moving onto the legal rights enjoyed by homosexuals the Naradasmriti [7] specifically states that homosexual men are “incurable” and should not be married to women. Procreation was not their prescribed duty or “dharma” under Vedic scriptural law.[8]

Now in the present time in literature we have a novel written by Valsad-based interior designer Mayur Patel’s novel, ‘Vivek and I’, is about a teacher who fancies a student in his school. One comes to know about Krishna and Vivek, the lovers of Kaushik, how he loved them, craved them and how he lost them. The writer has also created the character Vidya, and showed the real man-woman relationship. The writer is clever enough not to show acceptance to Gay relationship but finally crushed the craving in a beautiful way as Kaushik relieves himself from the craving of Krishna and Vivek. He in a way has left the issue of acceptance to the time.

The author of Boyfriend comes with another irreverent look at India’s gay subculture. Deadpan humor and sham come together in this entertaining love story, giving us a glimpse of what really goes on in a boys’ hostel. His novel, ‘The Boyfriend’ (2003) is among the first gay novels written in English in India. In the modern day literature one can see that authors are mainly representing the family, society problems faced by the homosexuals because of their sexuality. Rao was one the first to offer a course on LGBT literature at the university level in India. It’s strange how the academic fraternity that has always been quick to accept all kinds of literature Marxist, feminist, Dalit but had a huge reservation when it came to queer literature. For years, the Board of Studies refused to start the course saying that ‘Indian students do not need it’. Finally they clubbed it with Dalit literature and started it under the genre of Alternative Literature.” So we see that through literature homosexuality became an academic subject and I am sure if we see the same progress in our literature then it will sure become a strict ideology like Marxism or feminism. In a way authors are nowadays are writing these novels to fight for the rights of homosexuals  so that they can have a right to have a family and live normal life as everyone in society lives.

Representation of LGBT community in Cinema

Discussing representation in Cinema section I see that literature and principally media to a lot of extent have paved path for directors to make movies related to homosexuals. and this in turn has given representation in the film industry to the homosexuals.

Years ago, Sanjeev Kumar did play an effeminate character in A. Bhim Singh’s “Naya Din Nayee Raat” and so did Anupam Kher subsequently in Rahul Rawail’s “Mast Kalander” and David Dhawan’s “Dulhan Hum Le Jayenge”. But these were essentially comic characters meant to lampoon men who, in every day terminology, aren’t “normal”. Then we see some transition in the portrayal of homosexuals in cinema. India’s first bona fide homosexual film was Riyad Wadia’s “Bomgays” in 1996.[9] A 12-minute film adapting four of litterateur R. Raja Rao’s poems to screen, it featured Rahul Bose. After nine years I still think homosexuality is a long way from gaining acceptability in Bollywood. We hardly have any films on the theme. Nor do we respect the gay community’s space in the way we show them on screen. This film questions complex gay identity and the burgeoning gay community in 1990s India via six vignettes.

Mahesh Dattani’s “Mango Souffle”, was a recent effort to look at the gay community without prejudice. It made a valiant effort to de-marginalize homosexuality in our cinema. But the film hardly got itself an audience worth mentioning. “Page 3” comes closest in Indian cinema to depicting a gay character with some semblance of sensitivity. Director Madhur Bhandarkar says “All the characters you see in ‘Page 3’ are based on people I know. In our films, gay characters are used as props and gimmicks. Rehaan plays an identifiable character. We cannot reduce any community of people to tokens and emblems. We’ve to treat them as real. Hindi cinema i.e. Bollywood is a long way off from pulling homosexuality out of the rut of ‘minorityism’.

Marginalized image and behavior was constructed for homosexuals by people when movies used to be based on homosexuality before the pronouncement of Delhi high court judgement on Decriminalization of Homosexuality (Section 377 Indian Penal Code). And now after the pronouncement of judgement we see that movies are trying to expose the troubles faced by homosexuals in their social as well as professional life. So in 2008 we see the movie Fashion which very casually solves gay problem, the gay fashion designer played by Samir Soni, who eventually settled for a marriage of convenience (to please society and all), with a college buddy played by Mugdha Godse.It is becoming more and more unwrapped matter now. For instance “Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun” is a film featuring Bollywood’s first cinematic gay kiss. Movies are intending to change social notions about homosexuality in the society by bringing all the sophisticated issue related to homosexuality in the cine roll. Movies affects society and at the same time story line of a movie is also affected by the questionable activities happening in the society a lot it is a reality just not to be ignored. For instance, after the release of movie “Dostana” homosexuality relations in Indian society got the terminology as “Dostana”. So we see that this kind of transition in the cinema which is the obvious illustration of change in the representation of image of homosexuals in the society.


Concluding I will say that the LGBT community is getting represented in the society through film and literature and in the legal world through media. In the literature section we see that in the Vedic society the representation was very much justified but still the legal right to have family was just not given whereas, in the modern literature section we see the pain and agony faced by homosexuals from their family and also the hatred faced by society.And finally movies which has make youth to talk about it openly and coming on to the streets to fight for the rights of homosexuals.


[1]. The term prakriti or nature, however, implies both aspects together as one intricately woven and cohesive unit.
[2]. There are many examples of these three divisions of gender in Vedic literature. See Srimad Bhagavatam by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (4.17.26, 8.3.24, 4.28.61,and 10.1, notes); The Complete Kama Sutra by Alain Danielou (2.9.1); Beneath a Vedic Sky by William R. Levacy (p. 363) and The Laws of Manu by G. Buhler (p. 84, Manusmriti 3.49).
[3]. Among scholars, there is some diversity of opinion as to the date of compilation of the Vedas by Srila Vyasadeva. According to the scriptures themselves, they were compiled just prior to the beginning of the Kali Yuga, or a little over five thousand years ago. See His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada’s Srimad Bhagavatam 1.7.8, purport.
[4]. Alain Danielou, The Complete Kama Sutra p. 10.
[5]. Gay men with feminine qualities.
[6]. There is some diversity of opinion as to the exact percentage of gays within modern society, what to speak of within ancient India. Although the Kinsey studies are often cited as documenting that 10 percent of the U.S. population is gay, most research with probability samples now place that figure at 3 to 6 percent, with somewhat fewer females (N. California Community Research Group, University of California at Davis.) As far as ancient India is concerned, it can at least be observed that out of the thirty-six chapters of the Kama Sutra, two are devoted to addressing homosexuality, which is just over 5 percent of the text.
[7]. 12.15 hymn
[8]. Arvind Sharma, Homosexuality and Hinduism, p. 51.

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Harshita Chaudhary is a 1 st year student pursuing BA.LLB (Hons) from National Academy of Legal Studies and Research (NALSAR), Hyderabad. She is a dedicated social worker and loves acting and writing.

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