Shame on you, Karan Johar

Sunday, 4 November 2012 - 12:00pm IST | Agency: dna

It is because of films like Student of the Year that the homosexual has been reduced to a stock figure of the most homophobic, straight cliches in neoliberal cinema, writes Ashley Tellis.

If the homosexual was a spectral figuration in Dostana, in Student of the Year, he is an equally spectral figure, a ghostly collection of the most homophobic, straight clichés about homosexuals. He is (though it hard to impute a pronoun to this caricature), as usual, little more than a foil for heterosexual fantasies and stories — Hindi cinema’s favourite punching bag.

The figure of the Dean is so busy bending backwards to please hetero audiences with what they want to see, that he forgets that he must appear plausible as a character to be taken seriously at all. He is shallow and full of nasty, insulting comments to people around him. He squeals and squeaks, is simultaneously over-sexed (‘Oh! I’m wet, you made me wet!’ at his fantasy man’s entrance) and denied any sexuality at all. He goes limp-wristed even if the situation does not demand it. Gym-built hotties are his thing, but he surprisingly does not fancy the two deadbody-worthy, alabaster specimens of that club who are the leads. (That would bring him too close to that new figure lurking on the borders of our culture — the paedophile — and we must distinguish the pathetic homosexual from the demonic paedophile, musn’t we?) He is misogynistic and throws things at rival women, but who cares about women, right?

And, of course, he’s frustrated, old, single (and gets his face rubbed in it), and dies alone and unhappy as all of us homosexuals do because we cannot find that one person for “ishq wala love”, can’t marry, can’t produce shit-filled babies and die with people holding our hands. And that’s exactly what all of us want, don’t we? Implicit in this tired stereotype is the hegemonic fascism of the model of monogamy, marriage and reproduction that we all must want — and that rings exactly like the unfailing if tired laughter and giggling of the heterosexuals that accompanies every appearance of this stereotype on screen, like the sound of a dead horse still being flogged.

What is the source of our endless entertainability to straight folk? Like the samosa-sari-sindoor variety of the Indian-English novel that never ceases to have a market in the West, the homosexual is now a stock figure that neoliberal Hindi cinema appears unable to do without. Very close to the heterosexual world and yet never a threat to it, never a person and always ready to dissolve into a pathetic set of clichés, clanging to the floor in humiliation, the ‘queer’ is always ready to oblige every heterosexual fantasy.

The ‘queer’ community will likely lap this up as they lapped up Dostana. A programme on ‘national’ TV invited the director of Dostana to a programme where parents of LGBT persons came out in support of their children, and we were told that Dostana changed so many ‘queer’ people’s lives in India. Perhaps Karan Johar will be invited to the next show.

Probably not, because Johar is perceived as probably the most homophobic but closeted, self-hating homosexual in India. He trots out scene after scene of homophobia (the heroes of Student of the Year keep asking each other if they are gay, and hug only once the spectre is dispelled) in every film of his; homosexuality haunts every second scene of the shit he has been dishing out to us for years – but only as joke. Little does he realise that the joke is on him.

Not only are his politics rotten at the heart (everyone in the film — rebel and conformist — is in thrall to the neoliberal dream of money and fame, with women reduced to just commodities in the commodity chain that is the Indian upper class, and, increasingly, middle-class life), the homosexual in his film is not even that, but only a sad marionette holding up the tawdry circus of heterosexuality’s career.

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