Thursday, December 04, 2008

DOSTANA - mainstream Bollywood tackles homophobia

Don we now our gay apparel, fa-la-la, fa-la-la, la-la-laaaa!DOSTANA is being touted as a breakthrough Bollywood movie but I think it's absolutely typical in its slippery depiction of modern sexuality. After all, Bollywood cinema delights in showing us waxed and bronzed men and women, scimpily clad, gyrating provocatively. But god forbid you actually show two people kissing!

DOSTANA takes this paradoxical attitude to modern sexuality and applies it to gay relationships. So, on one hand, this is a brave movie. It's telling Indian parents not to be so judgmental that their kids are forced to stay in the closet. Surely, loving parents should want an honest and open relationship with their children? But on the other hand, this is a movie that still wants to make money and can't afford to offend its conservative audience. As a result, the two gay characters are, in fact, only faking it. And faking it in such a crass manner that it makes Robin Williams' performance in BIRDCAGE look restrained. The message seems to be: yes, it's fine to be gay, but just so you know, I'm most definitely NOT GAY! In a Western movie - such as I PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY - I would excoriate the hypocrisy and cowardice of the film-makers. But given that this is Hindi cinema I can only give thanks that we are finally inching toward maturity.

So, back to the nuts and bolts. DOSTANA is a movie about young single Indians living in Miami and enjoying a measure of freedom that they wouldn't enjoy at home. Kunal (John Abraham) and Sameer (Abhishek Bachchan) pretend to be gay so that they can share an apartment with Neha (Priyanka Chopra) whose conservative aunt won't allow co-habitation with straight single men. Problems arise when Sam's mother thinks he really IS gay and both guys realise that they are in love with Neha and try to ruin her incipient romance with her boss Abhi (Bobby Deol). The situations are resolved thanks to lots of typical Bollywood broad humour, farcical mix-ups, glycerine tears and ludicrously opulent romantic gestures.

Despite the fact that this movie is written and directed by Tarun Manusukhani, the movie has the look, feel and self-referential narcissism of your typical Karan Johar film. It's all lush location shots, designer clothes, over-styled actors and ludicrous over-acting. Having said that, in embracing his camp sensibility, Johar has finally found a narrative that suits his style and the result is highly entertaining. Let's face it, Priyanka is just a clothes-horse, and John Abraham is just there to flash his well-oiled pecs, but Abhishek Bachchan turns out to be very gifted at physical comedy, carrying the movie until the mid-way mark when Kiron Kher and Boman Irani show up. Irani is a scene stealer as flamboyantly gay magazine editor M - like a Hindi Mugatu for all you ZOOLANDER fans! - and Kiron Kher, as Sameer's devestated mother, has by far the best musical number in the movie, beautifully spoofing her performance in DEVDAS. Admittely, the movie starts to flag when we get into a tortously drawn out denouement, but at least it ends on a high with the dance number "Desi girl" and the first mainstream Bollywood gay (or at least man-on-man) kiss.

DOSTANA went on global release on November 14th.

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