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Is Dostana a homophobic film?

Well, yes and no. I know I know. I sound like one of those critics who don’t   want to take a stance (political or aesthetic) either way. Those incurable fence sitters. But it’s true. I go back and forth on this film.
The first hour or so had me cringing: every joke smacked of homophobia, or worse still, elicited snickers on Auntiji’s less than perfect appearance.

My initial reaction was typical of my responses to the usual hyper-conservative Karan Johar fare; oh dear, it can’t get any worse if the media blitzkrieg we’ve been subjected to is actually about a film in which displays of physical beauty border on fascism (Kunal emerging dripping wet from an impossibly blue sea; Neha doing the same in a gold bathing suit a little later; Leni Reifenstahl, Hitler’s favorite filmmaker, would’ve been proud! And a gold, one piece. Very original. Bo Derek in 10 (1979) anyone? Only the gorgeous cornrows were missing) and off-color, tacky, one liners about ‘unattractive’ older people abound. Besides, one must remember that the only gay people in the film—and there are very few—are weird little caricatures, etched lovingly with the aid of every stereotype in the book. And then there is the whole business of anxiety about Sam and Kunal’s sexual preferences; Dostana expends considerable time and energy reiterating that our protagonists are, in fact, straight. So deep is the anxiety that Sam in fact meets Kunal after a night of noisy, heterosexual debauchery and the two have a long conversation about it—just so that the dumb audience makes no mistake, the straightness of the male leads is hammered in, if you pardon the pun.
However, there are moments in the film—and outraged and offended as I was, I couldn’t ignore these—that are delightfully, defiantly, disruptively queer. Case not in point: when Sam narrates the (fake) tale of the two men falling in love in Venice (almost rhymes with penis?) every longing look, every tentative touch, even matching sailor’s outfits (!!!) are baroque in their overblown excess. These moments are truly stupid, not campy. However, the ‘real’ moments between Sam and Kunal, their ease and physical comfort with (albeit forced) intimacies makes Dostana a warm and funny sex-comedy. Then there is my favorite moment: when Kirron Kher does an elaborate arti for Kunal, gives him the bridal kangans and requests that he keep the karvachauth fast for her Sam’s well-being. Let us not for even a moment forget how significant, how pregnant with meaning and sentiment such moments are in Karan Johar/Yashraj films. And this wonderful farcical tableau of motherly acceptance was being enacted against the theme bhajan from KKKG! I must admit that at this juncture I was utterly charmed. When a Karan Johar film is intelligent enough to be reflexive and ironic about the massive Karan Johar khandan-bahu-kangan-saas paradigm, even jaded cynics like me let out a victory whoop or two. And then of course, there’s the grand finale, the kiss. After thousands of films have closed on the embrace of the heterosexual couple, couldn’t Dostana have ended right there? Oh well, one can’t have it all. And the film does conclude with an awkward (downright queer) question: did anything happen between Sam and Kunal? The discomfiture the question evokes, its maddeningly unanswered nature is what I decided to remain satisfied with.
This is not a review but production values of Dostana are typical of Karan Johar’s films: obnoxiously plush and stylistically predictable. The performances are competent. Abhishek Bachchan is good in a few scenes. One last admission: I watched Dostana only a few days after watching Gus Van Sant’s majestic Milk. The latter—Sean Penn’s incredibly sensitive performance in particular—moved me to tears. After watching a magnificent film about people in the vanguard of the gay rights movement, it’s a tad difficult to celebrate something as frivolous as Dostana as ‘groundbreaking’. And, let us not forget that Prop 8 has occurred—brutally to many of us—not so long ago. Not laughing matters these. Oh yes, go watch Milk.

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