The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Girlfriend out of closet, in one-night stand only
- Lesbian or Psychopath'

Mumbai, June 13: When two women get into bed, the men in the audience have all the fun.

Bollywood has come out of the closet with its first mainstream film on lesbians, Girlfriend. Or has it'

The film features Isha Koppikar and Amrita Arora steaming together on screen, but all they produce is a one-night affair that is more filmi fuss than passion, and sleaze — aimed at the frontbencher.

Kickboxer Isha beats to pulp two men when they make a pass at Amrita at a billiards table, but since one of the men professes he is unversed in the language of love, they do a sexy, sizzling number for them to teach them what it is all about.

Or, when a man, the hero Ashish Chowdhary, is attracted to Amrita, Isha wants to disabuse her friend of any favourable notion that she has of the male. So she again does an item number for Ashish to seduce and expose him but, because of the integrity of the male heterosexual, fails miserably.

Not to mention that Amrita is really straight — she just shared that drunken one night with Isha, who is a confirmed lesbian, because she is a man-hater, because she was abused as a child by a man, because that twisted her mind, because lesbianism is the result of unnatural circumstances.

Then, of course, she turns homicidal trying to save friend Amrita from the man, and director Karan Razdan (who recently made Hawas, another sleaze-fest) ruthlessly reaches her to her ultimate, fitting destiny: death.

It is not a happy story. Women’s and minority sexuality rights groups are screaming.

Tejal Shah, a visual artist who is a co-founder of Larzish, a film festival on alternative sexualities, and a member of an organisation called Forum against Oppression of Women, which addresses the issues of rights of sexual minorities, has written a letter called ‘From Fire to Furnace’ to the director.

She says anything that came before this film was better. “Dear Mr Razdan,” she writes, “If the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal go on a rampage yet again, to protest your film Girlfriend, ask for the film to be banned or sent back to the censor board, I might even forgive you.

“But I know, that six years after Deepa Mehta’s film Fire was released, the rightwing will see no reason to protest your film because your portrayal of a lesbian as ‘a psychopath, sexually abused, man-hating murderer and killer’ fits just fine into their hetero-patriarchal agenda of portraying lesbians and gays as freaks, abnormal and as people who must die at the end of the film, so they are aptly punished for their unnatural existence.”

“Films like Rules — Pyaar Ka Superhit Formula or Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Na Ho show gay people in a way that is not offensive. When things are changing even in the mainstream, this (Girlfriend) comes as a big blow to a community that is already without any rights.”

In Hollywood, too, a film like Monster, featuring Charlize Theron as the eponymous lesbian homicidal monster, is doing the rounds. But Shah says in the US it is different, as there is a strong, positive representation of such issues in alternative or art-house cinema, but in India, where Bollywood reaches every home, every person, such a film is a major setback to the movement.

The rights groups are not decided on how to address such a film, because to talk of it too much would be to give it too much publicity, but says Shalini, who also belongs to the Forum Against Oppression of Women, that the group has certainly taken note of the matter.

Director Razdan, however, is emphatic that his film does not promote any stereotype, because he says it is a particular case that he talks about. “I am not sitting on judgement on Isha’s character — it is a sympathetic, sensitive portrayal of someone who was abused early in her life,” he says.

Razdan’s defence may or may not be convincing, but his predilections seem to be gaining ground. Director Shreya Srivasatav’s next film, after the recent and foregettable Insaaf, The Justice, is also on lesbian relationship.

Perhaps this is Bollywood’s way of saying that its audience can handle “mature” subjects, with some item numbers thrown in.

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