23 October 2014

Movie Review: Dunno Y... Na Jaane Kyon

Indian and Gay? While there is something about it that seems quite natural, you never really consider it in the filmic realm. When I think of Indian movies, I think of Bollywood. I think of a clan or tribe of people dancing in the background as the young maiden lip syncs to Lata Mangeshkar. Some movies push the limit of what I'd call soft porn but you never see full on kissing, as the kids call it these days "lips to lips." But you never see positive representations of gay men in Indian film. The hijra are assigned to the same tacky bakla status of Philippine comedy.

As you know I've written about aspects of gay India, mostly in the juridico-political realm, but also White's Kiss of the Yogini, Reddy's ethnography With Respect to Sex and the now banned-in-India The Hindus, An Alternate History.

But this movie was surprising. First, I have to admit that I watched it without the benefit of English or Vietnamese subtitles so when the characters go into extended dialogues in Hindi, I had to somewhat guess at what was being said. Fortunately, only the poor, old and other marginalized characters spoke in Hindi. (And surprisingly, the male boss who is a fat, sexist pig, exclusively spoke in Hindi, but because he was so obnoxious and slimy, it was not difficult to grasp what he was saying and doing.)

So, like any good Indian creative expression, there is about an hour of set-up regarding the main character's family. What made it a little confusing was that I think the family or part of it hails from a "Saint Thomas Christian" community -- that is the ethnic group in India that descends from a community of Christian believers from almost 2000 years ago or a "mixed" family of Anglo-Indians. (Yeah, if you didn't know, Christians went both east and west and not all of the communities established in the eastern direction remained in communication with either the Roman or Byzantine hierarchy!)

But what we find out is that, irrespective of those details, they still comport with the major Indian traditions of arranged marriage, blind deference to elders, etc.,. Everyone is miserable. The main character lives with his wife, mother and paternal grandmother in their house. He works as a manager in a corporation. The mother also works. The younger brother doesn't work. The younger brother is in love with the main character's wife. And after an hour of nothing having to do with homosexuality, we find out the main character is a gay.

The story is then about the middle-class bourgeois married guy and his falling in love with a club prostitute who hustles the rich and famous of Bollywood. Things are just lovely. The prostitute breaks up with his regular, famous and discreet tricks to be with this guy solo. The prostitute is an orphan where the middle-class guy has a giant Bollywood family. Then, things start to strain when the police catch them making out in the middle of nowhere. The prostitute tries to stand up to the police harassment and shakedown while our burgis main character takes up the bribe challenge. He then admonishes his lover with "you have no family, you have nothing to lose." They then decide it best to split up. The last 15 minutes were perhaps some of the most interesting.

To sum up the lessons I learned: it's better to be dead than gay in India and the only thing that matters is the good name you give to your family.

It is worth mentioning that the main character, Yuvraaj Parashar, was actually sued by his real parents after the movie came out. Apparently, "it's better to be dead than gay in India" also applies if you only act the part of a gay in a movie because "the only thing that matters is the good name you give to your family." It was reported that his family said that they did "not want to see his face even in death." I thought it a little bit excessive since a majority of the movie dialogue was carried out in English, the people are, for the most part, fair skinned Christians, but what do I know about modern Indian mores.

If you watch it and have no exposure to Hindi, I'd recommend watching it with subtitles. It lacked the customary singing and dancing I associate with Bollywood, but the theme song was sung by Lata Mangeshkar so at least you have that.

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