Dunno Y ... Na Jaane Kyun, a film featuring India’s first cinematic gay kiss, is scheduled to go on general release within weeks.
Already dubbed India’s answer to Brokeback Mountain, it tells the story of an aspiring model who travels to Mumbai, India’s commercial and film capital, to seek his fortune and enters into a homosexual relationship, in part to further his career.
Trailers of the film have been well received by activists.
“It looks good,” said Ashok Row Kavi, editor of Bombay Dost, India’s first gay magazine. “It talks of the complexities [of being gay] in India. Taboos are still very strong and hopefully it will change things.”
For decades, Bollywood avoided graphic depictions of even heterosexual kisses, with films famously cutting away to images of budding flowers, breaking waves or crashing waterfalls at the crucial moment.
Earlier this year a film called Love Sex aur Dhokha, which included relatively graphic scenes of heterosexual sex, was released. Though there was much media debate, the film generated little public outrage, encouraging those seeking to draw the largely formulaic Indian film industry in new directions. However the most explicit sequences in the film were cut or altered by censors.
“The sexual revolution has been under way in Bollywood for half a decade,” film critic and author Anupama Chopra said. “Kissing is now fairly acceptable for most of the younger stars. The younger directors are responding to an evolving audience.”
However, homosexuality remains taboo. The nearest Bollywood has got to portraying same-sex relationships so far is the 2008 film Dostana, which showed two straight men pretending to be gay to persuade a landlady to allow her beautiful daughter to be their housemate. At the end of the film, as a punishment, they kiss.
“It was a comedy, but did involve big names playing effeminate men on screen,” Chopra said.
Last week, a gay film festival in Mumbai attracted big crowds.
“From India alone there are 25 films. I thought not many queer films were made in India,” the festival director, Sridhar Rangayan, told DNA newspaper.
The committee was careful about their selection, however.
“We don’t want to hurt the Indian sensibility. We had to discard 30 films for various reasons,” Rangayan said.
Gay activists fear Dunno Y will provoke a backlash from religious and political conservatives, many of whom opposed the recent effective repeal of colonial-era Indian laws that made homosexuality punishable by up to 10 years in prison as a crime “against nature.”
Promotional posters for Dunno Y ... Na Jaane Kyun showing two semi-naked young men embracing did spark controversy last year.
The film’s director, Sanjay Sharma, told the BBC recently that Indian cinemagoers were “mature enough” to deal with the storyline.
“At the moment I’m not thinking about any political or censor problems,” Sharma said.
Sharma’s brother Kapil, who plays the lead, said Indian audiences were ready to accept homosexuality on screen. Change, however, is slow.
“We are still a very long way from seeing a mainstream major star play a gay role and that, we won’t see that soon,” Chopra said.