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Dedh Ishqiya – How To Make Your Regressive Audience Watch a Gay Movie

Is Dedh Ishqiya a lesbian movie?

Is Dedh Ishqiya a lesbian movie?

Dedh Ishqiya, the sequel to Ishqiya, is brilliant for its subtlety and in the way that viewers have been left to wonder in amazement about the relationship between Madhuri Dixit and Huma Qureshi, the two leading ladies in the movie.

Here is the ultimate movie spoiler: Yes, indeed. Madhuri and Huma are supposed to be together in the movie, as in lesbians or at least, bisexual.

Lesbian or gay themed movies are not mainstream in Indian or even American cinema, but Dedh Ishqiya goes where few movies have gone before. This subtle way of exposing the audience to lesbianism is perfect because it does not play on stereotypes to reduce women to caricatures (Girlfriend), does not treat queerness like a bad joke (Dostana), while engaging a mainstream audience lost to brilliant but art-house gay Bollywood movies such as Fire or Onir‘s I Am.

What makes the movie a success? Well, read on.

1. Recruit an icon of Indian cinema for the lead role.

Madhuri Dixit is simply stunning in her lead role as Begum Para. There is no doubt that the movie was made with her in mind, as she shines in scene after scene with eloquence and mastery, delivering a magnum opus performance. In an industry where female stars have an expiry date of 30, her resilience and star power in her late forties makes her a true legend of Indian cinema.

2. Master the Craft of Subtlety

When Fire, a movie that explored lesbian relationships, hit the cinemas, Indian audiences protested by burning effigies, shutting down cinemas. Faced with that atrocity and the recent Section 377 decision that criminalizes sodomy in India, subversion is a great tool to drive home a point. The relationship is portrayed through playful talk and kept in the shadows from the audience. By not placing an emphasis on the actual sexual act of the two women, the film forces the viewers to humanize the lead characters.

When Naseerudin Shah’s character states “lihaaf mang le” towards the end of the movie, this is a reference to Lihaaf, a short story written by Ismat Chughtai, an independence era writer, on sexual repression, women’s liberation and homosexuality. In fact, with a similar plot line of a closeted Nawab and a repressed Begum, Dedh Ishqiya can be read as a movie adaptation of Lihaaf. The rest of the story is merely a camouflage for this revelation, cleverly made for the audience to consume homosexuality without knowing it.

And it worked. No one is burning down cinemas and taking out effigies of the actors. Rather, the audience is reveling in this masterpiece.

Why are you still reading? You should go watch Dedh Ishqiya now.

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Student of the Year Puts On Display Karan Johar’s Closeted Homosexuality

SOTY

Last month, I trekked with my partner to Falls Church, Virginia to enjoy another mindless, candy floss Karan Johar movie called Student of the Year (SOTY). I expected it to be extravagant and silly, larger-than-life with just the right amount of bromance, ishq wala love and tear-jerking moments.

When the credits rolled, I was sad.

SOTY has been branded Kuch Kuch Hota Hai 2.0, and while it is set in a college, the parallel ends there. The movie is about three students at Saint Theresa’s High School, a fictional Indian Hogwarts, where the swimming pools are Olympic-size, the students drive expensive sports cars, and wear clothes from extravagant labels. Once you get used to the fact that such a school does not exist, you need to shut your brain and reach for the popcorn.

Debutant Aliya Bhatt looks young and pale, and may not have the capacity to become the next Kareena Kapoor, thankfully enough. Debutant Varun Dhawan, playing the rich son of an industrialist, shows a lot of promise and dazzles with his dance moves. And finally, debutant Sidharth Malhotra, playing the new boy in college, is quite expressive, even though a bit awkward on the dance floor. Both boys are sure to become fan favorites. The ensemble is also lends good support to the screenplay and the leading cast.

Rishi Kapoor channels Karan Johar, better than Johar. In the movie, he plays a flamboyant and lonely gay Dean of an extravagant institution, who is in love with a straight married man, and has the privilege of making everyone dance to his tunes in order to win a coveted trophy.  He doesn’t have a partner. He is slightly overweight. He has an overbearing mother who tries to get him into shape. The parallels with Karan Johar’s own life are hard to ignore.

And the blame for everything that goes wrong in the movie — namely a huge fight between the two leading male characters over another coveted trophy, a girl — is unfairly laid on Rishi Kapoor’s character. It is astonishing. Why is Dean Vashisht to blame for a love triangle between that ruined several friendships? That’s because Dean Vashisth is Karan Johar, and he is ultimately responsible for the lack of growth, sour relationships, and broken friendships we’ve experienced between Kuch Kuch Hota Hai and Student of the Year. So he makes Dean Vashisth apologize to us for all that Johar has put us through over the past 15 years.

I’ve decided to come to terms with Johar’s closeted homosexuality. He’s obviously struggling to express himself and he does so in the most obnoxious ways onscreen. He has been making homosexuality into a big, fat joke, since the bromance in Kal Ho Naa Ho. While heteros are laughing at the how hilarious it is to be gay, I’m laughing at how ignorant they are so it works out. While I’m comfortable enough in my own sexuality to be able to find humor in it, his portrayal of gay men (and women!) is patently offensive in this movie.

I straddle the line between people who cannot stand Johar and those who love his movies. You can call me a disgruntled fan. He is Karan Johar. He made undeniably great movies like My Name is Khan and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna. He doesn’t need to hide in a closet and make ridiculous movies channeling his sexuality. He doesn’t need to make his actors dance to ridiculous tunes with contrived and manufactured plot-lines. He doesn’t need to reduce himself down to a stereotype to deliver a magnum opus. He can just be Karan Johar, and it will be alright. But he has decided to make money and earn fame by using his sexuality (and our sexuality) as a comic afterthought.

Yes, it is offensive, but Johar probably sees no harm in making money from his own repression. And therein lies the problem.

It will be alright for Siddharth and Varun to be gay or to display affection without making it look like they are gay. It will be alright if the tomboy is a lesbian after all and she is not parading around her post-marriage pictures to prove her heterosexuality. And goodness, it will be alright if all the leads did not look white, though that is a larger problem with Bollywood movies in general.

When I go to watch a Bollywood movie, I do not need to see the Indian version of “Glee.” We are capable of doing so much better. And so is Karan Johar.

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Facing Mirrors

Sometimes you have to be forced to leave your homeland in order to appreciate it more.

I went to see Facing Mirrors, playing at National Geographic Grosvenor Auditorium as part of the All Roads Film Festival. It’s one of the better films I have seen in the past few years, and certainly among the best about a transgender person. But it wasn’t just about being transgender. The two protagonists — Rana and Adineh/Eddie — created the perfect foil, with shades of gray adding complexity to both the characters and the narration. And it’s hard to believe that the story idea was conceived in less than two hours:

Rana and Adineh, two women of opposite background and social class are accidentally brought together to share a journey. Rana, inexperienced, religious and bound by traditions, is forced to drive a cab in order to survive financially. Adineh, wealthy yet rebellious, has escaped from her home. In the middle of the way, Rana realizes that her passenger is a transsexual who is planning on having an operation. For Rana, comprehending and accepting such reality is close to impossible and equal to surpassing all she believes in and traditions she values.

When the straight cisgender woman hits the transgender protagonist in a moment of hysteria and panic, she later explains her reaction as “I thought you were a man and tricked me.” I immediately thought about my own mother who is very much like Rana, working dangerous jobs to make a living for her family contrary to the gender roles she subscribes to, and my heart went out to her despite her transphobic reaction. Throughout the movie, her husband is in prison, but Rana is the one who feels imprisoned by her circumstances. And as a woman violating gender roles to provide for her family, she’s concerned about her safety as much as the transgender protagonist who also feels unsafe, but safety for him requires leaving his family and homeland. At the end, neither one of them is particularly happy even as they get what they want all along. And we are left contemplating the meaning of happiness as it pertains to us.

All the actors did a marvelous job but Shayesteh Irani of Offside fame, was especially  brilliant as the transgender protagonist. She looks a bit like Sheetal Sheth, which means I spent most of the movie crushing over a male character, played by a cisgender woman. I need to deconstruct that at a later time. It’s probably as simple as the fact that I love androgynous and butch all women.

Watch the movie if you get an opportunity. It is in Farsi, subtitled in English.

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Midnight In Paris and Stuff White People Like

Midnight in Paris / Paris la nuit…

Image by colodio via Flickr

Midnight in Paris. I believe the untitled name of this project was Night at the Museum of White People.

The movie posed the essential white people first world problem: “I’m jaded from my current work so how can I escape my reality.” It starts with a group of privileged white Americans taking a vacation in Paris, and enamored by the life and inspiration that the city holds, one of the white tourists, Gil Pender, decides to make it his home. You’d never see that happen in the case of a brown immigrant without la migra playing a central role in the storyline. But I digress.

“Night at the Museum of White People” is a reference to all the writers and artists that the struggling, not-so-talented lead protagonist meets through time travel after the clock strikes midnight. From Pablo Piccaso to Ernest Hemingway to Toulouse Lautrec, Gil Pender wines and dines with these (white) historic figures. As is characteristic of whiteness, Gil Pender quickly inserts himself into the history books as the love interest of Adriana, who has been the mistress of Modigliani and Braque and now slept with Picasso.

Seriously Gil, I’m not even asking why you couldn’t travel back to the ages of slavery and indentured servitude. Could you not run into Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera during your adventures? They are also displayed in museums. But maybe Woody Allen is making fun of where Pender subconsciously sees himself in terms of history and the kind of people he feels most comfortable with: rich, white privileged people.

It’s not all that bad. Midnight in Paris deals with how nostalgia hinders growth and how our true glory days are really right now. It’s a good message.

The other message I gathered from the movie was not to settle for someone who doesn’t find taking walks in the rain romantic.

I’ll give it a C+. Mom gave it a snooze.

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The Adjustment Bureau: Review

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14:  (L-R) Luciana Bar...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

“All I have are the choices I make. And I choose her.”

You know that sort of sappy, romantic line is enough to sell me a movie. Throw Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in a romantic tale of two lovers who are not supposed to be together and I’m bound to watch it several times.

The Adjustment Bureau gets a lot of things wrong. It is poorly written with a half-hatched plot. The movie has an abrupt ending that leaves a lot to be desired. But it gets one thing right: Old white men in ridiculous hats run the world. And if we truly want to, we can defy them and change our fate.

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Machete — The First Latino Action Hero?

“There are laws. And then there’s what is right,” says Jessica Alba in Machete, the new Roberto Rodriguez flick that hit the cinemas this past weekend amidst much controversy.

As Roberto Rodriguez movies go, Machete is intentionally over the top, edgy, sharp (no pun intended), violent, gory and certainly not easy on the eyes. It’s probably not for the likes of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who is already paranoid about beheadings in the desert.

Earlier this year, a leaked script pointed toward a race-based war theme in the movie, supposedly vilifying whites and promoting Latino mob violence against them. Machete is not so much about race, as it is about class. The crooks are the capitalists who want to benefit from cheap Mexican labor and denigrate undocumented immigrants to win elections, and they happen to be mostly white. Sorry Roberto Rodriguez, but didn’t you get the memo that a B-grade slasher flick is only appropriate when a white guy or girl goes around killing others? See The American, Kill Bill and so many other Hollywood A-grade flicks.

Machete, played by Danny Trejo, will drive the tea baggers crazy. He is an undocumented immigrant who cannot be deported. He crossed the border; the border did not cross him. He not only steals jobs that Americans want to do but gets the hot girls that should be reserved for American citizens. And heralded as the first Latino action super-hero, he shall never die. Move over Terminator. It’s the ultimate nativist nightmare.

Of course, far scarier than Machete are the white nationalists protesting the movie with their very real machetes. A movie uprising about  undocumented Latinos is so scary.

Machete does pose interesting questions about media representation. The movie ultimately falls into the same trap of Mexploitation that it sets out to criticize. Why are Latinos only depicted as “illegal” immigrants, pregnant teenage girls and welfare mothers, criminals and gangsters in Hollywood movies, and mostly always somehow pose a threat to the dominant culture? With Machete, Rodriguez does not change this picture, even though his approach is a parody on white fear-mongering. But there is some reconciliation in the fact that he does attempt to change the dominant narrative with a successful commercial movie about Latinos with Latino actors in the lead that has crossover appeal.

There are good movies. And then there are ones that should be watched for entertainment value. Machete falls in the latter.

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