What we at Media Studies were taught the other day, was the several meanings of the term ‘ideology’. One of the definitions which have struck me the most is closely related to the works of French cultural theorist Ronald Barthes. What he proposed, is that any media message has two levels: primary and secondary. The primary level contains the direct meaning of the message, it is denotative. While the secondary level is connotative in nature, it contains the hidden meaning or the unconscious meanings any given text or practice carries. Ideology, therefore, works at the secondary level. To this explanation of ideology, I could not think of a better example than the existence of homosexuality in India.
Stories, Romeo and Juliet, Heer and Ranjha, Laila and Majnu; Movies, Raj and Simran, Anjali and Rahul, Naina and Kabir; Songs and Books available to us, all revolve around the mainstream heterosexual idea of romance. What these unconsciously do convey is that the idea of romance is only heterosexual, love can happen only between a consensual man and woman.
Even after the historic ruling of the Supreme Court in 2018, decriminalizing private homosexual activity, mainstream Bollywood could give us only two movies revolving around homosexuality. Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2018) and Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhaan (2020). But what is peculiar, is that even these ‘deviant’ and ‘deemed to be normalizing homosexuality’ movies focus on spreading awareness about the same. The former movie, where Sonam Kapoor plays the lead role, falls in love with a woman. Her family wants her to marry a ‘good’ man and is traumatized when they come to know about her sexuality. The movie then again tries to deal with the idea of ‘psychological sickness’ and ‘wrongness’ situated with same-sex love. Similarly, in Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, the movies focus on how Indian families try to cure the evil of homosexuality. They sort to religion, to violence, to marrying a gay man to a woman and to practically covering up his gay behavior in front of the relatives. Overall, both the movies did not have more than a few scenes, where the same-sex couple had some ‘normal’ moments, they publically displayed their affection and sang songs like any other heterosexual couple does in a Bollywood. Barthes’ theory of ideology thus, comes with another aspect, homosexual love in the society, is not successful without a huge struggle. The problem is made bigger when we realize that Bollywood has tons, rather all movies circling around the lives of a heterosexual couple and only a few around homosexual ones. Even when its old idea of a happy ending is achieved, it is not done without several types of struggles.
The popular Netflix series, Orange Is The New Black and Sex Education, both talk about the varied sexualities and their idea of love. They are shown in making love, like any other heterosexual couple. What these pieces of content also don’t forget that the couples are true, not heterosexual. They have a high chance of hearing homophobic slurs, being bullied and criticized by society, and thus deal with those aspects also, while not denying their side of romance. They are not solely based on awareness and a homosexual crisis. Even though being that free in terms of homosexual expression on love in the mainstream Bollywood movies might still be a long shot, given the restrictions laid down by the censor board, Made In Heaven was one Amazon Prime feature which had a slightly better approach towards the LGBTQIA+ community, in terms of content.
To say these movies are completely wrong in showing homosexuality only in the light of awareness and struggles around the same, would be an over-generalization. Of course, art is a reflection of the current societal scenario, how a homosexual couple struggles even after they have been termed ‘legal’ by the judiciary, must be shown to the world. However, on our way to normalize them and their idea of romance, we should also keep in mind as that it is high time that homosexual couples as a part of story-telling, are portrayed without their struggles and just in love, which would indeed help the audiences in accepting homosexual idea of romance, like any other.
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