Maharashtra is the land where the social reformer RD Karve gave up a successful academic career and threw himself into the fray fighting for issues like women’s reproductive health and family planning. This is the land where visionaries, Mahatma Phule and his wife Savitrabai, started the first school for girls in India. And now, another movement is slowly rocking the homeland - and this time it’s the problems that the gay community faces. But instead of campaigns, the revolution is taking place in Marathi movies and plays.
Actor and director Amol Palekar, in his bilingual film Thang (in Marathi) and Quest (in English), has portrayed the complexities of heterosexual and homosexual relationships. He showcases the wife’s emotional turmoil when she comes to know that her husband is in a relationship with another man. “In this movie, whether the third person in the couple’s life is a man or a woman is not important. All that is important is that their relationship is shattered forever,” says Palekar.
But the movement is not a recent one. In 1981, actress Rohini Hattangadi played the role of Sumitra, a lesbian lover in Vijay Tendulkar’s Marathi drama, Mitrachi Goshta (A Friend’s Story). And this was at a time when gay rights were not even discussed in public. “This play may have been ahead its time, but it was received quite well by the audience. It ran for a long time and we staged it 25 times,” recalls Hattangadi. The play dealt with the friendship and love between Sumitra and Nama (played by Ujjwala Jog).
When asked about the future of such movies and plays, Hattangadi says, “The way the Indian cinema is going, I think more and more films on new topics will be encouraged by the audience. If the issue is portrayed interestingly and handled sensitively by the film-maker, people will accept it easily.”
In his play The Bath, writer and director Sachin Kundalkar chose to depict the life of male prostitutes. “Even in Marathi theatre and cinema, homosexuals are generally stereotyped,” he says. “The makers as well as the critics tag movies based on this theme. If there is an emotional bonding between two males, people often mistake them to be gay. But a film has no gender.” His plays, Chotyasha Suteet and Poornaviram, also deal with the topic of homosexuality. “There has been a warm response by the audiences to these plays, and they have been staged in Marathi, Hindi and English,” he says.