Dostana: Bollywood’s cautious coming out

Homosexuality is still illegal in India but is its film industry ready to tackle on this final taboo? Anil Sinanan finds out for The Times (London)

dostana1Is Bollywood coming out of the closet? It looks so with the release of Dostana (Friendship), a gay rom-com with four A-list stars including Shilpa Shetty and produced by Karan Johar, Bollywood’s biggest director. Of course, in Dostana two of Bollywood’s biggest heroes — John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan — only pretend to be gay to get closer to the object of their affection, Priyanka Chopra. Even so, this is daring for Bollywood as it is the first major film to address the love that dare not speak its name in such a mainstream manner.

Homosexuality remains illegal in India, and is still considered a taboo topic by many. The relevant law is Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (1860), which prohibits “unnatural offences”, defined as “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal”. But Johar says he thinks the timing is right for Dostana. Section 377 is now under review in the Indian courts and, at least in the major cities, negative attitudes are changing. In an action begun in 2001 the law is being challenged in the Delhi High Court.

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