Bollywood has made headlines after its first major romantic comedy featuring a lead gay character hit Indian cinemas on Friday and won multiple five-star reviews.
Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (translation: Be Extra Careful About Marriage) stars Bollywood actor, Ayushmann Khurrana as Kartik, a young man fighting antigay stigma in Indian society while also combatting his families attempts to set up an arranged marriage.
The film’s trailer has already received more than 50 million views and features a quick kiss between Khurrana and his male romantic interest, Aman, played by actor Jitendra Kumar.
The trailer also includes a scene where Khurrana wears a rainbow flag as a cape and denounces the “disease” of his father’s homophobia.
The film’s writer and director, Hitesh Kewalya noted that his primary goal was to depart from India’s historical tradition of mocking gay people in television and cinema.
Instead, the film is made “in such a way as to make it accessible, and humour seemed to be the natural choice to achieve that,” Kewalya told Agence France-Presse.
India only decriminalised gay sex in September 2018, when the country’s Supreme Court struck down British colonial-era law Section 377.
While India’s LGBTQI community has since seen greater acceptance from society, LGBTQI people still face stigma and a lack of legal protections in India.
The chairman of ‘T-Series,’ the company that co-produced the film, Bhushan Kumar said Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan aims to challenge older generations of Indians to embrace the tides of change.
“We have an interesting message — of societal acceptance — albeit in a much more fun manner so that it reaches more people and helps them re-evaluate their pre-conditioned thoughts,” Saavdhan told AFP.
The film even has the most unlikely backing from some of the world’s most powerful leaders with American President, Donald Trump praising the movie on his Twitter.
Ahead of his visit to India, Trump retweeted a post from human rights campaigner and LGBTQ+ activist, Peter Tatchell, who praised the film for breaking multiple boundaries in Bollywood.
“A new #Bollywood rom-com featuring a gay romance is hoping to win over older people, following the decriminalisation of homosexuality. Hurrah!” Tatchell tweeted.
To this, Trump replied with, “Great.”
Not everyone is as happy as Trump however, after the film was also banned from being screened in Kenya by the country’s film regulatory body.
The Kenya Film Classification Board banned the film Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, with the board’s CEO, Ezekiel Mutua, saying that the film will not be shown in Kenya, where gay sex is illegal and punishable by one-year imprisonment.
“The film is worse than the ones we have banned in the past as it has scenes involving children in homosexual practices and openly attempts to legitimise same-sex marriage,” he said.
“Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya.
“Further, Kenya is a God-fearing nation which places a great premium on family, an institution derived from a union between two people of the opposite gender.”
Kewalya has also confirmed that the rom-com will not be screened in the United Arab Emirates for similar reasons.