Giving love a bad name?

Iru Mugan’s trailer, released this week, shows Vikram playing Love, a campy character who’s seemingly the villain. Do such portrayals reinforce negative stereotypes about homosexuals and transgenders? 

Prakash Raj

I think it’s wrong to be insensitive towards a community, and depict its members only as villains. Even when I agreed to play a transgender villain in Appu, I insisted that the character not be portrayed as a caricature.

I admit that I’m a lot more sensitised today. Doing that role was a mistake. I have grown as a person since then.

I think filmmakers should play a part in making society more inclusive. Freedom of expression comes with responsibility. As creative people, we have to admit that we have influenced people wrongly. Nobody can ignore the power of cinema.

Deepan Kannan
member of LGBT community and a management consultant

Although the trailer doesn’t give out much information, it does appear that the character is gay/transgender, and in all likelihood, it seems to be a negative portrayal. My reaction when I saw the trailer was, “Oh no. Not again!” I hope this will not be another I. The characterisation in that film is a shame on humanity.

I wasn’t surprised though, as Shankar’s films are generally high on homophobic and transphobic content. I remember watching people laugh at the transgender character in I, when I watched the film in Delhi. It felt like public humiliation. Anybody in the theatre can attack any of us and get away with it.

Of course, we staged protests, and we will again do so, once it is confirmed that Iru Mugan is also what I think it is. The problem is, Tamil cinema doesn’t understand the LGBT community at all. I don’t think directors understand the difference between gender and sexual orientation. It’s a pity that films like these are coming out in the wake of Ranjith’s Kabali, which did a lot for a marginalised community. I encourage directors to talk to us, learn our stories… there’s so much material they can unearth just by knowing about our lives.

Vasudevan Ananthakrishnan
Visual designer, Amazon

I don’t think depiction of marginalised communities in a negative role is wrong per se, but that said, I think the need of the hour is for the portrayal to be positive, as our people aren’t yet comfortable seeing or being around transgenders/homosexuals. So showing them in positive light, like in Kanchana, would help in people getting used to them faster. If Vikram is indeed playing a transgender, the fact that an artiste of his stature is promoting the stereotype doesn’t help at all.

Apsara Reddy
Editor-in-chief, Provoke magazine

From time immemorial, our cinema has stereotyped the marginalised communities. It makes our society look at all transgenders and homosexuals as freak shows, or those who are animated in their gestures. While some say that it’s just a film and that there are negative portrayals of heterosexual men and women too, I have to ask, how many positive portayals of transgenders do we see? Almost none.

We must push for transgender representation in the censor board. In our country, films are watched on TV with very little parental supervision. What stereotypes are we pushing into the minds of the next generation? Also, why does a transgender/homosexual have to talk like the way Vikram speaks at the end of the trailer, when he drawls, “Nee raja. Naan rani.” It’s just silly and insensitive.

Sadanand Menon
Art and culture critic

In the 1960s, when a Satyajit Ray film alluded to a nurse character being a sex worker, an association representing nurses got offended and organised a protest. These are times in which sensitivities are high. Hence, filmmakers must be cautious, and should steer clear of stereotypes. For instance, it’d be problematic to show an AIDS patient as being dangerous.

I’ve just returned from Kolkata, and at every traffic signal there, I saw transgenders collecting money, making gestures and the like. It used to be the same in Chennai, but not any more. The community is now respected and well-organised. Some leading Bharatanatyam artistes are transgenders. In this situation, it’s unfortunate that some filmmakers are taking us back to more regressive times.

I watched Shankar’s I, and found the portrayal quite artificial. Tamil cinema has generally used this community for comic value. It’s unfortunate that homosexuals/transgenders who are trying to fit into society are forced to face such negative stereotypes.

This article was written for The Hindu. All copyrights belong to the organisation. Do link to this page if you’d like to share it.

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