Excerpts from the dialog:
Shruti Janardhan: So, I watched Badhaai Do not too long ago, and I’m positive that you just already know this, nevertheless it’s a couple of marriage between a closeted homosexual cop and a lesbian PT trainer. I wished to listen to a few of your ideas on “lavender marriage” as a time period, as an act of self-preservation, and as an act of resistance towards the authorized heterosexual framework inside which it exists.
Madhavi Menon: I noticed the time period for the primary time within the e mail that you just despatched me. I don’t know what it means. What is it?
SJ: A lavender marriage is one among comfort between two people who find themselves queer in order that they are often protected against a number of the strain from their respective households and fast communities. It turns into a means for them to dwell authentically in a selected association whereas showing heterosexual for the sake of self-preservation. I believe the time period was popularly used within the US.
MM: Of course it was.
SJ: I don’t know the place it first appeared, nevertheless it was utilized in Hollywood within the early 20th century when closeted celebrities married one another. I do know you will have spoken extensively about how we take these phrases from mainstream American queer politics and apply them straight right here, and you’ve got additionally outlined the constraints to that.
MM: It would have been good if she was the cop and he was the PT trainer, however I don’t suppose some stereotypes go away. You know, it’s so fascinating to see what has been carved out as a distinct segment of queer acceptability. And it’s clearly this sort of humanistic, pietistic factor of “we should all get along” and have the ability to do no matter we would like, and, you realize, I fully subscribe to that narrative – after all everyone ought to do no matter they need and be free to comply with their wishes it doesn’t matter what. But I believe that each one these movies wish to do is increase the ambit of the heterosexual, somewhat than define a sphere of the queer. That – as a mode of cultural illustration – is much much less fascinating to me.
SJ: That is precisely how I used to be feeling whereas watching the film. Sumi [Bhumi Pednekar] and Rimjhim [Chum Darang], as a pair, don’t problem the concepts of romance we have already got. They additionally need a long-term relationship with a toddler on the centre of it. How do you suppose this queer relationship between two girls, which exists within the concept of romance we have already got, complicates the thought of obscenity?
MM: The cause obscenity is so fascinating is that, definitionally, it’s that which can’t be outlined. It is that which is off-stage, behind the scenes, which you’ll’t see, not to mention classify. To have a set of acts and judgements to evaluate what’s obscene is definitely fairly humorous – if it wasn’t so ridiculous. And you’re proper that sure sorts of non-normative sexualities have been introduced into these movies now to sanitise them. But by means of this sanitised illustration, it maybe permits us to see what is healthier off not seen. It’s a sophisticated argument as a result of I clearly don’t suppose that just some sexualities needs to be seen and others mustn’t. All I’m suggesting is that the extra you suppose you possibly can see sexualities, the extra you police the way it ought to look. If you agree that this huge area that we name sexuality is, in truth, immune to naming, immune to being seen, you then really develop a wholesome respect for that type of unknowingness, or un-seeingness.
SJ: Can you inform me extra about this pursuit of unknowingness. What does the time period “queer” entail from an educational perspective now?
MM: The phrase “queer” itself is just not new. It actually existed within the sixteenth century, which can be my interval of specialisation. “Queer” [in academia] very a lot means unusual and “at-odds with”. It got here in particularly to interchange what was then known as “Gay and Lesbian Studies” within the latter half of twentieth century and early 2000s, as a result of it was thought of that “gay” and “lesbian” have been too identitarian. It is about partaking with what is taken into account “odd” with a selected set of questions.
For instance, if you consider homosexuality, you consider queerness, however that can be as a result of it’s a sexuality that’s stigmatised, one that’s at odds with a heteronormative framework. But what we’re actually making an attempt to reply is how stigma involves be related to sexuality as such. If we’re fascinated about that bigger query, after which focussing on a specific id class, it actually doesn’t provide the type of capacious canvas on which to color your thought – which queer concept requires. And actually, there’s a libidinal attachment to sexualities, however to not sexual classes per se.
SJ: I wish to speak about queer criticism when it comes to id politics. I’ve grown up with the web and this concept of “self” that emerges within the digital area, the place who will get to talk for whom has been deeply internalised. I do know you will have touched upon the subject in a few of your works, so I’d like to know your perspective. I assume you’re calling to determine the worth on this identity-based politics whereas asking that we typically shift from this sort of essentialism.
MM: The final thing you mentioned is completely proper. I fully perceive and respect individuals’s have to really feel seen and counted, like they aren’t alone, like they’re in firm and in a bunch of like-minded individuals. What surprises me probably the most, is when the answer to that’s fully reverse of that want. I believe you can’t say upfront the place you can see your like-minded individuals. For occasion, it’s a sociologically established indisputable fact that in ’60s and ’70s India, most homosexual males recognized as such after watching Helen in Bollywood. Helen is a lady; she is a heterosexual lady, and if you happen to did, as you mentioned, develop up within the web age, “heterosexual woman” is a special class, and “male homosexual” is a special class. And to me, that [identity essentialism] is an entire lack of artistic power since you don’t know the place you can see your most fascinating illustration. I don’t perceive the need for a corporation that may be a prediction upfront and fixes individuals in a means that’s, to my thoughts, fully anti-creative and anti-political. And going again to the web, it looks as if one doesn’t should suppose – one goes with sure labels to seek out widespread parlance around the globe. And I imagine, now greater than ever, one must complicate one’s pondering and embrace a sure notion of ambiguity – I discover the assertion of certainty round us very scary.
SJ: I additionally wish to speak in regards to the pressing have to see your lived expertise mirrored within the texts you learn and the belongings you watch. To legitimise how you’re feeling about your self in a sure means can be the way you see your bodily expertise articulated in tradition round you, and I can see this strand of thought turning into central to well-liked queer criticism.
MM: But Shruti, there’s a extra basic query there, which is why would I wish to watch a film or learn a guide or have a look at a chunk of artwork that I believe is “me” – what’s the impulse there? The understanding over the centuries of literature, of which I’m a professor, is that you just go there to lose your self, not end up. That you learn texts with a purpose to inhabit flights of fancy, with a purpose to discover people who find themselves not such as you and may have the ability to form who you suppose you’re. And frankly, to examine any person who’s like me, I might be fully tired of that. But I believe you’re placing your finger on one thing. There is an rising sense of writing as expressing the self and studying as a method of discovering the self, which fully goes towards the grain of what artwork is. If we have interaction in what you mentioned, then we’re subjected to the deluge of Ayushmann Khurrana’s movies. So there needs to be a capability to increase one’s horizons somewhat than shrink them. Imagine saying “I am the centre of the universe and everywhere I look I have to see myself”. I discover that type of homogeneity and uniformity extraordinarily scary.
SJ: I believe this goes into the guts of critiquing as a observe, and I like that you’ve got spoken quite a bit about having enjoyable with texts, and with critiquing the ideas and concepts that we dwell with. But…I additionally don’t suppose we all know tips on how to do it as a collective. Have enjoyable, I imply.
MM: (laughs) The incapacity to chuckle at oneself speaks to me of a really inflexible mindset. If you have been fortunate sufficient to go to the Shaheen Bagh protest when it was nonetheless taking place, you’ll have heard a number of laughter there. I believe persons are so caught up within the concept of residing sanctioned lives, that they neglect tips on how to chuckle. I train very dense materials and intense texts, and persons are so frightened they gained’t get it that they miss the humour in them. We are so scared to let ourselves off the leash – however if you happen to don’t, then all you’re doing is supporting the established order. Which is why I at all times affiliate revolt and revolution with laughter.
SJ: I attended a web based Ashoka University occasion not too long ago, the place you spoke about iconic romances like Heer-Ranjha and Laila-Majnu, and the way the wishes of these protagonists needed to be realised exterior of society. Even in the direction of the top, it [desire] doesn’t get launched inside that social area.
MM: Oh sure, I keep in mind.
SJ: I’m curious to understand how we are going to put that framing within the context of an iconic Bollywood romance like DDLJ that, as some extent of battle, is centred on an organized marriage that must be resisted towards. And to make use of a newer instance, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, which I don’t suppose is as romantic because the earlier instance, nevertheless it tapped into a selected temper and is revered and quoted quite a bit in well-liked tradition.
MM: It’s a very good query. You see, after I say “anti-social”, I imply it in the best way that Shakespeare’s performs are anti-social. You have Romeos and Juliets, that are very very like Lailas and Majnus, the place they finish in loss of life, which is clearly an instance of anti-social romance – a romance that can not be match into the edges of the social. So, if we put the top of a movie or a play on a pedestal, we’re dropping out on all of the queer energies within the center. Can you think about if you happen to have been to observe Anand  and say, “How is this a queer film – the man and woman end up together?” If you learn all these movies with Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Dharmendra and Rajesh Khanna, they will’t be learn teleologically for the top. The queerness is every thing that goes on within the center. I believe Shah Rukh Khan is a superb instance of an heir of these sorts of milieus in traditional Bollywood cinema. The concept that need doesn’t have to adapt to sure social scripts is what makes an anti-social film. And whether or not that transfer occurs inside a heterosexual relationship or a gay one, it’s the power of the path during which you’re transferring that’s fascinating to me, not the vacation spot per se. So, I don’t have issues with any of those movies ending up with a fortunately ever after, however I do have an issue with what you have been describing as “lavender marriage”, which is that this touchy-feely “I will do everything you want me to because what I am doing is normal and natural”. You see, naturalising the queer to get to the top is uninteresting to me. Highlighting the queerness of what appears straight – that’s way more fascinating to me, and I believe somebody like Shah Rukh does that on a regular basis.
SJ: Shah Rukh Khan’s queer power in cinema is a superb word to conclude this with.
MM: It is at all times nice to finish it with Shah Rukh.
SJ: Yes, completely. I’ve been fascinated about the potential for an iconic queer romance filmography in Bollywood. We have clearly come removed from Girlfriend and Dostana , each of which have been fairly atrocious, to Kapoor & Sons and Badhaai Do, which I believe point out progress, and I additionally imagine that Kapoor & Sons marked a decisive shift in a roundabout way. I believe I really feel hopeful.
MM: Unfortunately, I don’t share your hope, Shruti. I’m glad you will have it – a few of us have to have it, not everybody needs to be cynical like me! I don’t share that hope as a result of none of those movies converse to me. The movies that talk to me are something by Sanjay Leela Bhansali – that’s an iconic queer movie for me. Or something with Amitabh and Shashi. I actually loved Kapoor & Sons, however I’m not significantly within the partying shenanigans of a bunch of well-to-do privileged youngsters. I’m way more considering queer fissures and queer energies, and, for me, the one film-maker proper now who displays that’s Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
SJ: Can you inform me extra in regards to the queerness of Bhansali’s movies? I might like to know what you particularly learn as queer in them.
MM: I believe each single film he has finished is quirky and eccentric, and for me the actually iconic ones are Bajirao Mastani, Ram-Leela and Padmaavat. And he’s a really Bollywood film-maker, very Indian in his sensibility, as a result of he actually places his finger on the heartbeat of what makes India culturally and sexually so queer. This, after all, is why he has been roughed up and crushed up, and I really feel this film popping out [Gangubai Kathiawadi, which released on Feb. 25] is perhaps marked with all types of PTSD. Poor man. But Bhansali’s saying that this can be a tradition that can at all times be occupied by Hindus and Muslims, and by sexual extra, that this can be a tradition with an excessive amount of color and an excessive amount of sound, too many dances, too many garments … that “too muchness” for me encapsulates queerness. And if you happen to preserve making an attempt to pare your self down and say “we fit in, we will be just like you”, that’s a waste. If you’re bigger than life and announce the brutality and vivacity of need in your movies, that’s what’s queer for me.