Socio-cultural Relevance of ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan’
in the Context of LGBTQ+ Issue in India
The various shades of bias and acceptance that are found in the relationships of typical joint Indian families are actually weighed down by social conditioning and ignorance, not hate as it appears on the top, the essence of which the movie tries to capture.
6th September, 2018 marked a crucial day in the judicial history of India, when the Supreme Court of India, revoked provision of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalised consensual same-gender relationships. Homosexuality in India until in the recent past wasn’t a matter of public debate or discussion, unlike the west where the issue of LGBTQ+ forms a major part of the civil discourse. Although many Indic scholars are of the opinion that homosexuality was a socially accepted norm in ancient India, the centuries of subjugation by alien powers have affected the psyche of an average Indian so deeply, that homosexual relationship is now seemed as ‘unnatural’ and ‘taboo’ by substantial part of the population.
It is not a distant past when the Bollywood film industry used to stereotype LGBTQ+ people either as objects of derision or comedy. Even a small discussion about such sensitive issue in the public life was deemed as a matter of ridicule. Amidst such entire backdrop of social uneasiness to even mention about LGBTQ, the movie Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan (SMZS), released on 21st February, 2020, is a brave attempt to discuss the entire issue in a humorous tone without making mockery of homosexuality.
Starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Jitendra Kumar in the lead roles and written as well as directed by Hitesh Kewalya, SMZS is based in the backdrop of an orthodox middle class joint family living in the city of Allahabad. Kartik Singh (Ayushmann) & Aman Tripathi (Jitendra) who live away from their families in Delhi are a male homosexual (gay) couple, who are committed to each other, which is unknown to their families. Problem starts when the Tripathi family discovers their truth when both visit Allahabad for the wedding of Aman’s cousin.
The movie deals with homophobia prevalent amongst the vast majority of the orthodox population. The main theme of the story is how both the gay protagonists, Kartik and Aman struggle against the rejection and mockery by the family and how the family comes to terms with their truth. The entire issue is discussed in a very sensitive manner, but in a hilarious way.
The movie depicts the struggle a homosexual individual faces on daily basis in a very effective manner. From considered as being suffering from some mental disorder to getting tagged as criminals, both Kartik and Aman are struggling since their childhood, adjusting in a society whose socio-cultural norms aren’t compatible to their natural orientation. Both are disappointed when they face the harsh reality of the so-called 'educated’ people, whom they thought might understand that different sexual orientation is a natural trait.
Homosexuality and homophobia aren’t the only topic discussed in the movie. Simultaneously, the issues of complicated relationship and upbringing of children, which an average Indian middle class family faces are dealt in a light tone too. Forced marriages, bizarre rituals, begrudging acceptance, form the part of the complicated life style of an average Indian family.
The married life of Aman’s parents is loveless as their wedding wasn’t a product of love; but rather of family pressure. Aman’s 27 year old cousin Rajni is struggling to get married, for which her desperate parents agree to get her married to an aged man as their only priority for their daughter is to get her married at the “right age”. The various shades of bias and acceptance that are found in the relationships of typical joint Indian families are actually weighed down by social conditioning and ignorance, not hate as it appears on the top, the essence of which the movie tries to capture.
The climax of the movie is set in the backdrop of the day on which the Supreme Court passed the historic judgement which sought decriminalisation of consensual sex between two consenting adults of the same gender by declaring section 377 of IPC as illegal and unconstitutional. Just a few hours earlier, the police had arrived to arrest both Kartik and Aman as both were charged with the violation of the law, but after the judgement their behaviour became no criminal offence.
Although eventually, both are accepted as normal human beings and their sexual orientation as natural by the Tripathi family by the end of the movie, the situation for the homosexual couples isn’t very good even after two years of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The legal hurdles that the LGBTQ+ community used to face until the year 2018 are now easier to overcome, but the real issue lies with the psyche of the society.
Homophobia is deeply entrenched in the normal behaviour of the society even today. It is not uncommon to see very qualified public figures sitting on responsible positions passing statements which stereotype homosexuals as mad and unscientific creatures. Aman’s father, who is a scientist, arranges a puja aimed at sanitising his son’s thoughts. Exactly similar is the situation in the real world, where even educated medical professionals have been accused of homophobia and ill-treating LGBTQ+ people by classifying homosexuality as a mental health disorder.
Even though homosexuality has been decriminalised, the practice of ‘conversion therapy’ is still not made illegal in India which is already outlawed in Switzerland, Germany and parts of Australia, Canada and the USA. The practice of conversion therapy is a pseudo-scientific construct, based on the entire false notion that being LGBTQIA+ is abnormal and associated with mental disorder. Conversion therapy, is considered harmful in the psychiatric disciplines. Just recently, a 21 year old lesbian girl named Anjana Harish committed suicide in May 2020 after she was harassed by her family for her homosexuality and forced her to take the conversion therapy.
Thus, the victory in the legal battle is only a single step in eradicating homophobia, as the issue needs to be discussed and dealt on various levels of socio-cultural zones of the vast heterogeneous society India is. It will take rigorous attempt to keep the LGBTQ+ movement a genuine rights struggle and to check that it is not being misused by some opportunistic political camp to use the issue for petty political gains.
Situation is indeed changing, which is evident in the attempt to make movies with mainstream Bollywood actors like “Ek ladki ko dekha toh aisa laga” starring Sonam K Ahuja which was on the theme of the struggle of lesbian couple and now the commercially successful SMZS with the theme of male homosexuality and homophobia. Now only time can show how the mentality of homophobia will be weakened in the society, but the success of SMZS can be considered as a sign of beginning of the change.
The author is a research scholar in Gujarat University, Ahmedabad and is an intern at Academics4nation.