By Subhash K Jha
MUMBAI: Rituparno Ghosh, who died in Kolkata on Thursday, was unabashed about his sexuality and played gay characters in some of his later films. Here he is in conversation with Subhash K Jha on homosexuality in our films.
Q: There’re several major mainstream Hollywood films on the theme of homosexuality. What did you think of Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain”?
A: I’d rate Onirban’s “My Brother Nikhil” much higher. I didn’t like “Brokeback Mountain” at all. In fact, I quite hated it. I was put off by the abruptness with which the love scenes between the two male actors came on. I thought they were unnecessarily sensationalistic and seemed to be put there for titillation. The director was also apologetic about his protagonists’ mutual attraction. ‘Look, they aren’t gay. But when two heterosexual males are thrown together in solitude such a thing may happen.’ I found it contrived.
I feel filmmakers, who have no proper respect for sexuality in any form, should refrain from comment. Ang Lee needed to do more research on homosexual behaviour. Like I did historical research for “Antarmahal” and “Chokher Bali”. Or I’d have made a fool of myself. In fact the other Oscar-nominated film “Copote”, with a gay hero, was far superior. Philip Seymour Hoffman played Al Capone with such textured velocity.
Q: Did the central relationship between Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllanhall in “Brokeback Mountain” work for you?
A: No. Firstly, the ambiance was too pretty and it took away from the central relationship. Given a choice between the shots of nature and the human relationship, I preferred the former. The balance between ‘nature’ and the ‘unnatural’ was never resolved.
Q: Two actors doing a love scene didn’t offend audiences?
A: Yes. But I wonder how necessary it was for Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllanhal to be shown copulating. Sanjay Suri and Purab Kohli in “My Brother Nikhil” were able to convey so much more without physical intimacy. I believe audiences in the Indian metros were uncomfortable watching the lovemaking scenes in “Brokeback Mountain” while they were quite okay with “Nikhil”. I found the lovemaking out of context. I found the gay lovemaking in “My Private Idaho” much better handled.
Q: Do you think Indian audiences are ready for a sexual revolution?
A: I don’t know. I don’t think “Brokeback Mountain” can be done in Indian cinema. Years back I had offered Akshay Kumar the role of a gay man. I don’t know if he remembers it. Today, he’s playing the hot-blooded lover in “Rahgeer”. The film is more about passion than sexuality. It will move more within the accepted mores of mainstream cinema than my last release “Antarmahal”. I don’t know about our cinema… the sexual mores, family structures and parameters of the permissible are different.
Q: But Madhur Bhandar’s “Page 3” got away with paedophilia.
A: An actor, if he considers himself an actor, shouldn’t consider any topic a taboo. An actor not wanting to play a gay person is like a Hindu actor saying he won’t play a Muslim. An actor saying no to a homosexual role is an insult to minoritism.
Why do you think we’ve never ever had a big mainstream protagonist in India with a Muslim name? The only way we get a Muslim protagonist is if they make a Muslim social like “Chaudhvin Ka Chand” or “Pakeezah”.
Why hasn’t one of the Khan heroes protested about being called Rahul all the time and not Salim for a change? No mainstream Hindi superstar is willing to represent the minority community, whether it’s a sexual or a religious minority. I salute Sanjay Suri for playing a homosexual in “My Brother Nikhil”. It could easily have been swept away.
Q: Do you think Indian cinema is getting sexually unabashed?
A: I wouldn’t say so. Look at the reaction to my “Antarmahal”. I’d say we’ve gone a step forward and then gone two steps backward. In “Antarmahal” I was very clear about why I needed to show those sexually graphic moments. The sex was meant to be repugnant. If the sex in “Antarmahal” had entertained people they wouldn’t have reacted so violently.
Sex for the audience is always a matter of titillation. Whether it’s Padma Khanna stripping and dancing for Premnath in “Johnny Mera Naam” or Heath Ledger and his co-star in “Brokeback Mountain” copulating, the audience is unconsciously a participant.
Q: So is Hindi cinema still sexually inhibited?
A: Yes, of course. I’d like to make a film on a gay relationship. For me that is easier to do because of offers the chance to go to any creative limits. To do a conventional story like “Rahgeer” and still make it look different is a greater challenge than doing a homo-erotic story.