The prospect of India’s first on-screen gay liaison has made foreign media outlets hot under the collar but it is proving to be a different story on the sub-continent.
Dunno Y … Na Jaane Kyun – which follows a male model’s struggles in Mumbai and his relationship with another man – won’t be released in India until May, but western media outlets have already branded it India’s answer to Brokeback Mountain.
Contrasting the film’s risqué subject matter with Bollywood’s chaste attitudes towards sex, some reports are predicting wild indignation and street protests when the film screens in what is widely seen as a sexually conservative country.
They may well be right; but stirring up reaction against a film is certainly an easy feat in India.
Hindu nationalists recently attacked Mumbai cinemas when they screened a film starring one of the country’s top actors, Shah Rukh Khan. The protesters, however, were not interested in the sexual leanings of the lead but rather the fact that Khan had expressed sympathy for Pakistani cricketers.
So far, the more excitable fringes of Indian politics have been relatively quiet on the issue of an on-screen affair between the two male leads, as has the local media.
While the film’s provocative poster (it shows the two scantily clad men embracing) is certainly gaining attention, the real concern of much reporting here has so far been on who is starring and gossip about who might have starred.
The muted reaction could be because the film’s stars are a pair of relative unknowns. If the aforementioned superstar Khan were in the lead, there’d no doubt be much more interest in the film from the country’s Bollywood-obsessed media.
Indian author Saleem Kidwai thinks that it could be a case of much ado about nothing.
“My reaction … had been to wait and see what the film was about,” says the historian and rights campaigner. “So much emphasis on the kiss made me a bit sceptical. The sensationalism about the kiss makes me wary because such promotional strategies have been tried in the past.”
While the streets of Mumbai are a long way from the hills of Wyoming, there is hope that Dunno Y could help change attitudes towards homosexuality in the country, especially after New Delhi’s High Court overturned a Colonial-era law – the so-called Section 377 – that banned homosexual acts.
While that was a success for human rights in the country, they then suffered a setback when a university professor was fired for being gay.
For his part, Kidwai is uncertain how Indian audiences will react to the film.
“It is hard to tell, and I’m often surprised. I had expected a far more homophobic reaction to the 377 judgment, which fortunately didn’t happen. However, given the current episode of the firing of the professor, it is clear that some very popular people still think that they can get away with blatant illegality by whipping up abhorrence towards homosexuality.
“This is going to be a very interesting test case,” he says.