Growing up, my first memory of watching queer representation on-screen was always as a punch line. From Saif Ali Khan and Sharukh Khan pretending to be gay in front of their homophobic maid in Kal Ho Na Ho to Suresh Menon playing Katrina Kaif’s BFF ‘Kiran’, they were always sidelined as funny caricatures. While the depiction in Hollywood was a little more polished, the portrayal wasn’t fair in that part of the world either. In Friends, Susan and Carol were constantly subjected to Ross’ disdain and lesbian puns. Chandler didn’t leave a single opportunity to call out his father, who transitioned into a transgender woman. Even the most cult show of the decade didn’t do justice when it came to showcasing the queer couples in the right light.
As the audiences have now evolved, the content has to follow the benchmark. Today, we see queer couples headlining movies and shows and not just playing side-kicks to the main characters in their pretty pink outfits. David and Patrick’s couple from Schitt’s Creek has garnered a cult fan following, owing to the sensitivity and truthfulness with which their characters were written. Kristen’s Stuart and Mackenzie Davis recently played the romantic leads in a Christmas Holiday movie, a category generally overcrowded with heterosexual couples. We’ve come a long way, and yet, there’s a long way to go.
Here’s an overarching look at the evolution of queer representation in both Bollywood and Hollywood over the years: the good, the bad, and the stereotypical!
In 2008, two mainstream hunky Bollywood actors, John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan played a pretend gay couple in a movie called Dostana. Everything about their characters was taken from a stereotypical, dated homosexual handbook. From the extra bounce in the step to the abundance of floral and florescent, everything was plain wrong. Of course, if you were a gay couple back then, only one of the partner was allowed to be macho and the other has to be feminine and soft to fill the void. The only actual queer character played in the movie was Boman Irani, who was shown as a laughing stock, a man who is extra flamboyant and doesn't understand consent. While the intentions of the moviemakers must have been in the right place, but Dostana did little or nothing for the queer community in terms of acquiring space on the big screen.
Before you come at me for calling our Anthony and Stanford from 90s popular drama Sex and the City, hear me out. Anthony was a narcissist, and Stanford was an insecure, love-deprived, human. During their first interaction on a blind date set up in the series, Anthony straight rejects Stanford on the basis of his looks, as he considers himself too hot for him. Later, their relationship is shown in a single scene of a lonely kiss on a New Year's eve, cut to a grand Hampton's fairytale wedding with Liza Minelli officiating it. How did it go from toxic to happily ever after? Why wasn't the story more carved out? Why was the monogamy aspect in their relationship left on a vague statement? Too many questions, we hopefully will receive answers for in the new reboot.
Grey's Anatomy is popularly known as a medical drama but it deserves it due when it comes to representing relationships from all the spectrums. The love story between a lesbian paediatrician Arizona Robbins and a bisexual orthopaedic surgeon was carefully threaded. Their journey's of their individual love life gave enough context to make sense of them coming together, without leaving a question mark on their sexuality. It also highlighted the complications of modern relationships where both parents need not be connected to the baby biologically for them to have equal rights.
It was around the late 2000s and the conversation about the inclusivity of the LGBTQ community on-screen was finally picking up some mileage. Mainstream shows like Modern Family and Glee were not just writing supporting parts for the queer characters but were giving them the platform to be the lead couples in the star cast. Mitch and Cam were a refreshing change from the vampire love triangles at the time. Their love story saw a complete evolution during the timeline of the show. Staying true to the title of the sitcom, they were the modern family within the modern family with their adopted Asian babies and a beautiful marriage that everyone rooted for.
Kapoor & Sons is one of the most underrated movies of our time. It was on the first times when the topic of homosexuality was shown in mainstream Hindi cinema without a satirical angle. Fawad Khan, who played the character of a homosexual man, had his storyline carefully woven into the movie's narrative. They covered it all, from the initial denial of desi parents to the stages of anger and acceptance. It was refreshing to see the relatability this film had with real people, and for once, the gay man on-screen wasn't put in a stereotypical box.
Captain Holt and his husband Kevin's marriage in the beloved cop drama Brooklyn 99 is radical for many reasons. Their love story breaks multiple societal taboos. For instance, Holt is a black, typically-masculine cop in his late 30s married to a professor who happens to be a white man. Throughout the show, they show him talking about the hurdles he faced being the first openly gay, black cop in the '70s and how his sexual identity was constantly taken into account while assessing his professional calibre. If this isn't enough for you to stan this love story, see them as a family with their little dog Cheddar and try not melting.
Props to Sonam Kapoor for breaking the conventional mould of a Bollywood heroine, and playing a queer woman on screen. Born in a conventional Punjabi family, her character Sweety Chaudhry is a coy, small-town girl who is afraid to come out. While her over-enthusiastic family is busy finding her a perfect munda, Rajkumar Rao plays the catalyst who helps Sweety and her love interest Kuhu (Regina Cassandra) come out of the closet. It was an emotional riot that sensitively captured the journey of a couple who just wants to love and live in peace.
Netflix's in-demand Spanish drama, Elite, tapped into the delicate subject of inter-religious homosexual relationship from two opposite socio-economic spectrums. Omar, son of a shop-keeper, and a small-time pot-dealer meets and falls in love with Ander, who happens to be the son of a popular school's principal. Throughout the seasons, the couple manages to overcome societal prejudice, religious prohibition and other emotional rollercoasters they emerge on the winning side of.