John Abraham to play "gay"

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Postby Penelope » Tue Dec 23, 2008 12:14 am

As luck would have it, a cinema just five minutes away from my brother's house here in Dallas reserves 2 of their 12 screens for Bollywood fare (the community is 1/3rd South Asian); as further luck would have it, Dostana happens to be playing there this week, so my sister-in-law and I went to see it.

To recap the plot: Sam (Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (John Abraham) are both looking at the same lavish Miami condo at the same time, but the owner, Neha (Priyanka Chopra), doesn't want to share her place with two men, so they pretend to be a couple, naturally falling in love with her (their ruse is reinforced when they discover they can get U.S. citizenship faster if they register as a couple...yeah, right). Hijinks ensue.

As one of the first major Bollywood productions to tackle the subject of homosexuality, Dostana is a mixed bag: all the gay characters are portrayed in the most flamboyantly effeminate manner possible, almost making Liberace seem like the Marlboro Man by comparison; on the other hand, Neha is totally supportive of the boys' "relationship" right from the start, and even manages to convince Sam's mother that it's a good thing. And, a SPOILER in case you ever see the movie, but it's kind of cool that, in the end, neither of them ends up with the girl--and it hints that they might have enjoyed the ruse all along.

There is much laughter in the movie, though we were often cringing in horror at the same time. The production numbers are so-so, save for the wonderfully elaborate "Desi Girl," which is eye-popping (so is the photography of Miami). Bachchan and Chopra give lively, likable performances; as for Abraham, well, at least he keeps his shirt off for much of the film, thereby distracting the audience from his wooden acting.
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Postby Penelope » Fri Nov 14, 2008 12:01 am

From the L.A. Times:

'Dostana' a bit of Bollywood daring

Film idols Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham star as a pair posing as gays to get nearer to a woman. For India, that's cutting edge.
By Anupama Chopra

November 9, 2008

Reporting from Mumbai, India — "We are gay -- this is my boyfriend." The shock in this statement comes not so much from what is being said but who is saying it. The speaker in question is John Abraham, an A-list Bollywood hero, known for his chiseled chest and sexy smirk. The "boyfriend" is being played by Abhishek Bachchan, another well-known actor who is considered Bollywood royalty (he is the son of superstar Amitabh Bachchan and the husband of leading actress Aishwarya Rai).

Abraham and Bachchan, both strapping matinee idols, have built their careers playing sensitive lovers and good sons, but in their upcoming film "Dostana" (Friendship) they are breaking with tradition, risking their carefully cultivated screen images and testing the sensibilities of Bollywood audiences.

"Dostana," which will have its worldwide theatrical release Friday, is the first big-budget mainstream Bollywood film to feature gay protagonists. But the movie has more in common with "Three's Company" than "Brokeback Mountain" or "Milk." That's because the characters aren't actually gay. They are heterosexual men pretending to be homosexuals so they can save on rent and share an apartment with a curvaceous and conspicuously single magazine editor, played by popular actress Priyanka Chopra.

Predictably, both fall in love with her but are forced to keep up the charade of being lovers themselves. The film, set in Miami, is a breezy romantic comedy, with what producer Karan Johar calls "a candy-floss take on homosexuality." But in a country where homosexuality is a criminal offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison, candy floss is cutting edge.

While police in India don't usually arrest people simply for being gay, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law dating back to 1860, criminalizes even private, consensual sex between adults of the same sex. Subsequently, the law has pushed homosexuality underground and there are no reliable numbers on the gay population in India. In 2004, the National AIDS Control Organization pegged the number at a minimum of 2.5 million, but some media estimates suggest a much higher number, as many as 50 million out of India's total population of 1.13 billion.

Despite the numbers, the Indian gay story has rarely become fodder for film. Popular Hindi cinema has largely reduced gay characters to comic sidekicks or, on occasion, villains. India's first bona fide gay film was a 12-minute adaptation of a poem by R. Raja Rao, who is one of the best-known gay fiction writers in the country. The film, titled "BOMgAY," made in 1996, circulated at festivals and private screenings. It generated media buzz but was never commercially released.

In 2005, "My Brother . . . Nikhil," a low-budget drama about a gay man's struggle with AIDS, found distributors and critical acclaim but failed to connect with mainstream audiences at the box office. The film's director, who goes by the single name Onir, says: "After 'My Brother . . . Nikhil,' I met several producers who said they loved it but nobody wanted to make another film that went near the subject." In comparison, television has been quicker to feature gay characters and themes, in news shows and on the occasional soap opera, but is still a long way from airing a show like "Will & Grace."

With the $10-million "Dostana," Johar and his stars are entering uncharted waters. Which is why even a faux-gay angle is couched in glittering, mainstream trappings -- stars, sun-kissed Miami beaches, trendy styling and several set-piece songs. But within these commercial parameters, Johar and writer-director Tarun Mansukhani are attempting to push the envelope.

To convince their landlady, the heroes invent a romantic back story about how they met and several scenes show them flirting with each other, holding hands and even doing a simmering tango. Another leading Bollywood actor, Boman Irani, plays a gay magazine editor who visits the girl on pretext of work but is more interested in checking out her two roommates. Most critically, the film features the stock, smothering northern Indian mother who becomes hysterical when she first finds out that her son is gay (she isn't in on the lie) but eventually she blesses the union telling her son's boyfriend: "I'm not sure whether you're my son-in-law or daughter-in-law!"

This is the character that Johar and Mansukhani are hoping that viewers will connect with and take home. "The mother is the progressive element for India," Johar say. "She carries the one message I want to send to parents: that their child's sexual orientation is not something that should not be blessed." It certainly helps that the message is being routed through attractive and popular stars. Actors in the Hindi film industry have largely shunned such roles, which might sabotage their larger-than-life images and alienate their fan following. Another leading director, Madhur Bhandarkar, had a difficult time persuading actors to play gay designers in his recently released film "Fashion." "The two roles were rejected by eight to 10 actors," he says. "Each one told me, 'I would love to work with you but I can't do a role like this.' "

But Abraham and Bachchan had no such qualms. "I was laughing as I heard the script," says Abraham. "It's not offensive or derogatory. I said yes and didn't even think of the repercussions if there are going to be any." Bachchan was equally sanguine about the role. He says: "I'm not the kind of actor who is obsessed about one's image. I'm obsessed about not having one."

Both were so comfortable with the content and each other that Mansukhani often had to rein them in to keep the contact from becoming too cartoonish. Otherwise, he says, "they would go drastically over the top." The stereotypical gay flamboyance is not what the director was seeking. "I know exactly the tone I wanted," he says. "They did not need to be effeminate. We wanted to get humor in without making it cheesy." The priority was to make it lightweight and inoffensive, to the traditional and perhaps timid Hindi film viewer but also to the gay community. Johar says: "Even within the fun and games, handling it sensitively is a challenge. If we offend even one member of the homosexual community, it will really disturb me."

Johar, who earlier hosted a popular chat show on television and is considered a style icon, has been fielding questions about his own sexuality since he directed his first film in 1998. He has neither denied nor confirmed the rumors, but his ability to handle the issue with grace has created confidence that his film will do the same. Vikram Doctor, columnist and gay activist, says: "Karan is a class act. He is comfortable with himself, and that is an inspiration. Hopefully 'Dostana' will reflect that." Parmesh Shahani, author of "Gay Bombay," believes that "any mainstream acknowledgment, even if it is tongue-in-cheek, will go a long way. Laughing about it is the first step toward more textured and nuanced characters."

But at least a few are wary that the humor might be interpreted as ridicule. "This is token homosexuality," says Onir. "There is a need to normalize instead of perpetuating stereotypes. Moreover, being physical is an integral part of our culture, but by stereotyping that holding hands is gay behavior we are adding to the homophobia. The question is: What signal are we sending out here?"

The signal may be mixed but it's timing is apt. The Delhi High Court is currently deliberating a petition filed by the Naz Foundation (India) Trust, a nongovernmental organization that supports gay rights, which asks that Section 377 be reevaluated to decriminalize private consensual sexual activity. Prominent Indians such as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and acclaimed writer Vikram Seth have publicly demanded a legal change. Even the Health Ministry and Law Ministry have suggested the same. However the government maintains that gay sex is "against the order of nature" and propagates Western values. The hearings continue and a verdict is expected before year's end.

While "Dostana" doesn't make any political statements, Johar is confident that it will add to the conversation. He says: "This is a baby step, but endeavors like this do open up vistas. Cinema has a tendency of opening up mind-sets and making you a little more prepared for things. It will be a talking point. And there can therefore, someday, be a 'Brokeback Mountain.' "

Chopra writes frequently about Indian cinema and is the author of "King of Bollywood: Shah Rukh Khan and the Seductive World of Indian Cinema," among other books.
"...it is the weak who are cruel, and...gentleness is only to be expected from the strong." - Leo Reston



"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable." - Jodie Foster

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Postby Reza » Mon Aug 25, 2008 8:34 am

Penelope wrote:* Reza, translation? Does he mean like "$70 million"?


**Yeah, right, we know that's code for!

*Rs 70 Crores is the same as Rs 700 Million which after convertion into dollars is approximately $16 Million.


**You are absolutely right on the second point about Karan Johar.




Edited By Reza on 1219671303

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Postby Penelope » Sun Aug 24, 2008 9:22 pm

Is India ready for a Brokeback Mountain?’

NISHA SUSAN speaks to filmmaker Karan Johar about his new romantic comedy Dostana’s faux gay narrative

The trailers are out for Karan Johar’s new production Dostana (directed by Tarun Mansukhani, starring Abhishek Bachchan, John Abraham, Priyanka Chopra and releasing in November 2008). The teaser suggests that most of the romance and frolic in the sunshine of Florida takes place between the two male leads, Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham.

Is Dostana a gay romance?

No, John and Abhishek play two straight guys who pretend to be gay. As the trailers say, it’s a tiny lie that they tell because of certain circumstances.

Is it an updated version of the 1980s buddy film with the same name?

It has absolutely nothing in common with that film (which my father made) except the name. Oh, and both films have two actors with a sexy girl between them.

So you would be surprised to hear that the original Dostana that starred Amitabh Bachchan and Shatrughan Sinha is also occasionally read as a film with gay subtext.

I wonder what my father would think of that. But you know in India we find it slightly embarrassing to watch male bonding. (Laughs)

You started a trend of self-referencing in Bollywood with Kal Ho Na Ho. And in these trailers you seem to be making fun of your older films.

Oh yes, Tarun and his team had a lot of fun making these trailers. In Bollywood we have a new romcom coming out every month. These trailers have you thinking, “Oh God, another film that says it’s an eternal love story” and then you plummet straight into this mad plot.

In Kal Ho Na Ho, you had a gay subplot. In this film the fake gay relationship is the main thread of the story. Do you think you will ever make a film that is actually about a gay couple?

I learnt something from making Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. I learnt that it’s possible to make a Rs 70 crore* film about infidelity with stars as big as Shah Rukh Khan. And people accepted it. So I will push the boundaries with each of my films. People judged me far too quickly. They decided that I would make only mushy films but I will break new ground every year. We have to leave behind the tone of the films we made in the 80s and the 90s. But is India ready for a big, serious film like Brokeback Mountain yet? I would say it won’t go down too well yet. But we will open the doors for other filmmakers in the future.

Communities who have made major contributions to cinema have been oddly subject to terrible stereotyping on screen. Like Muslims and Anglo-Indians in Bollywood. Do you think the industry is homophobic?

I don’t think people confident in their own skills would be homophobic. If you are educated and have been brought up in an urban milieu it’s quite ridiculous if you are homophobic. It either means you are insecure or you have never read a book. Or that you are in denial of your own orientation. Homophobia speaks volumes about who you are. That’s as far as the industry is concerned. As filmmakers I think we have a great responsibility to be sensitive to the feelings of all communities. We Asians are an emotionally volatile and dramatic lot. Tarun and his team have made a film that is fun but does not poke fun. It is not callous and does not hurt the dignity of gay people in any way. It may shock a small part of the population, but I think most people would enjoy it.

What do you feel about being a gay icon?

It’s very flattering to be an icon to any community. I have been asked many times about my own orientation but I will never discuss my personal life. People can look at me or look down at me, I don’t care. What I do and where I do it and who I do it with is nobody’s business but mine.**

* Reza, translation? Does he mean like "$70 million"?

**Yeah, right, we know that's code for!

Here's the trailer.
"...it is the weak who are cruel, and...gentleness is only to be expected from the strong." - Leo Reston



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Postby Reza » Mon Aug 11, 2008 10:11 am

Penelope wrote:Those of you familiar with Bollywood, or have seen Deepa Mehta's international success d'estime Water (2005) are aware of the sun-level hotness that is John Abraham; well, he's currently filming a movie in which he plays gay. There IS a god, after all! Well, almost....

(Sorry Reza, I just had to add that! Really, why ARE Bollywood films sooooooo long?)

Most Bollywood films are that long because of the songs - sometimes as many as 8-10. Although now the majority of films only have about 4-5 songs thrown in. And a number of so-called art films have only a couple of songs in the background and these films run no longer than 2 hours. Usually films run about 3 hours unless they are serious historical films like Lagaan or the recent Jodha Akbar when the running time reaches about 4 hours. Such films are rare now due to the cost of making such films.

Dostana is billed as a comedy and it appears from your plot synopsis that the ''gay theme'' will be played strictly for laughs unfortunately. And since there are 4 major stars in the cast the film is bound to have at least 6-7 songs, thus, taking the length of the film to at least 3 hours. Another Bollywood blockbuster of a few years back - Main Hoon Na (2005)- had the two male protagonists pretending to be gay to shock their maid each time she appeared. During the awards season the following year both actors were co-hosts of the annual Filmfare awards (the Bollywood Oscars) and they proceeded to camp it up on stage like their characters from the film. The audience got a kick out of this.

Bollywood has handled the subject of AIDS in two recent mainstream films. Phir Milenge / We Will Meet Again (2004) which is basically a remake of Philadelphia with a twist. The AIDs patient is the female protagonist who contracts the disease via a one night stand with an old boyfriend. The other film - My Brother....Nikhil (2005) deals with the title character who is gay and gets AIDS and how his immediate family handles the situation. This film is a lot like An Early Frost. Both films were well made and acted. However, we really cannot accept Bollywood to get bold on such a theme. After all it took mainstream Hollywood eons to get their act together.

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Postby Penelope » Thu Aug 07, 2008 7:53 pm

Oh, I agree, Lagaan is a magnificent film, and even at 4 hours it doesn't seem long. The DVD contains a deleted scene that's about 25 minutes!
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Postby HarryGoldfarb » Thu Aug 07, 2008 7:05 pm

Penelope wrote:(Sorry Reza, I just had to add that! Really, why ARE Bollywood films sooooooo long?)

Really? r all of them really long?

Lagaan was extremely long, but it is a film that is so dear to me... I liked it so much that I wasn't tired at all by the time the film ends. All I could say (and that has been some kind of a general impression among my family) was that the director did everything he wanted to do and he didn't care about anything but his passion to make that specific film.
If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime.
- Jack Kerouac

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Postby Penelope » Thu Aug 07, 2008 1:18 pm

Those of you familiar with Bollywood, or have seen Deepa Mehta's international success d'estime Water (2005) are aware of the sun-level hotness that is John Abraham; well, he's currently filming a movie in which he plays gay. There IS a god, after all! Well, almost....

In Dostana, scheduled for release later this year, he'll be playing the roommate of Abhishek Bachchan, who's in love with Priyanka Chopra, but she's in love with Abraham, so he pretends to be gay hoping that Chopra will fall for Bachchan; but then a real gay man, Bobby Deol, falls for Abraham, leading to all kinds of hilarity. Presumably.

While this may seem like a routine, low-brow Hollywood offering, for the Bollywood film industry, and for India itself, this is something of a step forward, as homosexuality isn't mentioned, only a handful of films have briefly touched the subject. I look forward to it, if only to drool over Abraham, though I pray it's not 4 hours long! (Sorry Reza, I just had to add that! Really, why ARE Bollywood films sooooooo long?)
"...it is the weak who are cruel, and...gentleness is only to be expected from the strong." - Leo Reston



"Cruelty might be very human, and it might be cultural, but it's not acceptable." - Jodie Foster


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