I could barely believe it when a friend sent me the link. It was for a YouTube clip of the TV serial Maryada… Lekin Kab Tak, which is currently doing well on Star Plus. I had heard the serial had a gay character, a married man with a secret male lover, but hadn’t bothered to watch. The few gay characters that have featured in Indian TV serials have always been both stereotyped and marginal. They tend to be camp, scheming queens, like the designer on Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin, brought on as comic relief, or as bitchy villains, before mercifully fading away.
When I started watching, it didn’t look like much had changed. True, the guy, played by model actor Dakssh Ajit Singh, was super hunky and not camp at all, and he was the khandan’s eldest son. But the hyperbolic dialogue, the frenzied cross-cutting and, above all, the way the women dressed, in that elaborate, accessorised style pioneered by Ekta Kapoor, hardly suggested that things would be different. Could a serial set in patriarchal North Indian family, with the women dressed in fashion-plate lehengas at home, really break new ground? Surely, at most, they might hint at the homosexuality, but not show it?
And then Dakssh storms out of the house and drives madly until he meets another car. With the handsome Karaan Singh in it, who is clearly his lover. And they have their own hyperbolic dialogue, which does establish that they are close, however conflicted. And then they kiss! OK, a safe forehead kiss from Dakssh to Karaan, but at least it’s in the general vicinity of lips and the context has made clear that it’s not a brotherly benediction. And then Dakssh gets into his car and drives straight into a truck.
OK, that last bit shows that this is still a TV soap, with all the required dramatic twists and retribution for characters that stray. But just treating a gay character like every other over-the-top soap character is still a breakthrough.
Because TV serials are seen as rather trashy, their potential for cultural change is often overlooked, while films like Brokeback Mountain or Dostana get all the attention. But such films ultimately are only seen by those who go to the theatre or get the DVD, usually in the metros. TV serials on the other hand are beamed across the country, right into people’s houses for anyone to see.
This is why real progress on gay rights in the West has been marked less by the compromises and cowardice of Hollywood, than by characters like Steven Carrington, the bisexual son on Dynasty, who appeared as far back as 1981, to more recent ones in shows like As The World Turns, the new version of Beverly Hills 90210 or Brothers & Sisters. Dakssh Ajit Singh, whose restrained and sensible comments on the role marks another kind of change, put it nicely when he said: “It’s about how I’m emotionally involved with another man and can’t connect with others. My parents, who know nothing about homosexuality, will learn about it from the show.”
Maryada, it should be noted, is not the only current serial with a gay character. Ekta herself has one in her serial Pyaar Kii Ye Ek Kahaani, a really daft mash-up of Twilight films and Archies comics, with vampires in a school in Dehradun! It has a subplot about a hunky architect, Shaurya, who loves a hunky teacher, Shankar, who loves a tomboyish girl called Misha, who loves Shaurya. This is both marginal to the main plot and increasingly rather stereotyped, as the smitten Shaurya acts more and more like a wife to Shankar.
But it’s saved by the fact that Gautam Gulati, who plays Shaurya, has just the right spoofy style to deal with such silly material – his performance may be camp, but then the whole show is. Shaurya isn’t conflicted about being gay, and is hot enough to have half the girls in the serial falling for him. Such a role may not be quite as path-breaking as Maryada, but when it’s done by someone as cute and frequently shirtless as Gulati, I don’t think many of us will object!
By Ally Gator on August 19 2011 7.48am