How many times have you seen a homosexual character in an Indian movie or a TV show that doesn’t intend to make you laugh, or carry distinct mannerisms that make them look odd among other human beings? Seems like things are changing now though. At least a wave of change has arrived and it’s time to notice and appreciate it in the best of our capacities. Also Read - Chandrachur Singh 2.0: Aarya Brings Back The Gem Industry Lost a Few Years Ago | Interview
Aarya, a popular series on Disney+Hotstar that garnered all sorts of praises recently, features a character named ACP Khan, a cop in the narcotics department who’s searching for a pen-drive that is supposed to blast an entire drug racket. Everything about this character looks quite uncommon and yet real. He’s not an ‘aata majha satakli’ Singham or a Simmba who walks with style and wears his swag on his moustache. There’s no representation of toxic masculinity here. The makers of Aarya creates a real-life cop sans the six-pack abs, a dabangg attitude, and flexing muscles. But, that’s not the best thing about this character. This is: the makers combine the two persecuted communities together to make a subtle statement with ACP Khan. They curate a Muslim homosexual character to normalise homosexuality in every class, section, culture, and society. Also Read - Saroj Khan's Last Interview: Her Love For Madhuri Dixit And The Art of Dance in Bollywood | Exclusive
Vikas Kumar in a still from Aarya (Photo Courtesy: Disney+Hotstar)
India.com got in touch with actor Vikas Kumar, who plays the role of ACP Khan in Aarya. The actor has already been appreciated for his performance in films like Hamid, and YRF’s TV Show Khotey Sikkey. With Aarya, he attempts to showcase how homosexuality can be included in a story without making it look sensational or shocking. Excerpts: Also Read - Ram Madhvani: Sushmita Sen Defines Aarya, She Has Both Strength And Vulnerability
How does this character normalise homosexuality in society?
Khan doesn’t really bother about people taking a dig at his sexual orientation. It doesn’t affect him when Shekhawat says ‘Mardon Ka Mard Aa Gaya Hai Ghudsawaron Ke Bich‘. He doesn’t get affected. We worked on that aspect during the workshop itself that we have to normalise it to this extent. He’s at ease with his orientation and totally focussed on his job.
But he does get affected when Sangram says that he will be calling his mother to let her know that her son has a boyfriend.
He gets a little rattled there but that’s only because he feels frustrated after not being able to get the information out of Sangram. Khan is trying to get under the skin of Sangram to make him speak. That’s his only intention. Khan will do weird things, he will say things and do funny things to just get the information out. In fact, the gender difference is just not there in his mind and that’s shown in a scene when he suddenly grabs Aarya suspecting she has a pen-drive and then a lady constable interrupts saying ‘let me do it.’ He’s just concerned about performing his job.
In a scene, ACP Khan meets Ajay, his partner, who brings food for him in the office. Please elaborate on the scene and how relevant it was for the story?
There are a lot of cliche ways in which homosexuality is shown in our films and shows. They would either use orientation for comedy, to sensationalise or to shock the audience and we have done nothing of that. It’s not that we had to constantly remind ourselves about making it normal. It started from the director – Sandeep Modi, who directed that bit. It was also his inputs in the script. That scene was supposed to happen in my house and it was to be shot like ‘ACP Khan comes from office and finds his partner cooking something. He then looks at Khan and asks ‘what happened, you are looking very stressed’ and Khan says ‘I am not being able to crack this case’. He says ‘never mind, you’ll be able to do it’. I added the next bit after that when I say ‘batana bhul gaya ammi ka call aya tha and you will have to shift for a few days’. This was an improvisation that I did.
What we wanted to highlight was that suppose if my character’s partner was a woman, she would have come to the office and brought lunch along and she would have asked me about my work and why was I feeling stressed in the same way Ajay does for Khan. So, this is what we wanted to show. That it’s just so normal and regular.
Vikas Kumar and Sushmita Sen in a still from Aarya (Photo Courtesy: Disney+Hotstar)
How have people been reacting to your character?
I am not on Twitter but I go and check what’s been said or written about my work. And this scene has had quite an impact on people. Like people have been discussing how there’s no ‘shor-sharaba’ around this character. Sushmita, also mentioned in an interview that when people discuss Khan, they say there was nothing that came out looking awkward or sensational. It looked normal. So, when even those who are against homosexuality see the series, they say there’s nothing to feel guilty about.
Did the makers try to make a statement by designing a character who’s both Muslim and homosexual – given homosexuality is considered unacceptable in Islam?
The makers would know that. Nothing of this sort was discussed with me. And I didn’t look at it that way. I think that’s the best thing about it that we don’t see it that way because it’s that normal for us. Having said that though, I think that if it is there, the makers are trying to go subtle about it. Neither I was told nor I asked the makers about this. It is possible that they have had a big thought about it or a deliberate attempt to show something subtly. But, I didn’t dig into it. I feel they were trying to add layers to Khan.
Do you believe that your character has helped to break a gender-based stereotype at least in the film industry?
I would like to believe yes and I hope it does. More than anything, I hope it encourages more filmmakers and tells them that if they incorporate a homosexual character, this is how they show the orientation, and not for the shock value. In fact, I already see the change. There’s this journalist friend who called. He has been following my work. He had questions about Aarya. He asked me ‘aur kyu nahi dikhaya?‘ He told me I would have loved to see more about sexuality there. I said ‘aur kyu dikhaye’. I said you didn’t ask me the same about any other character. Why single this character out? Why are you so curious about this? I understand it will still take time for our society to synch this in, to normalise sexuality but we have to start doing it in a subtle way in our films.
Please go on.
Someone asked me what was the need of making this character homosexual. What difference did it make to the story? I said, ‘exactly – faraq kya pad gaya?‘ It doesn’t matter the character is homosexual or heterosexual, it doesn’t create any difference to the show the same way it doesn’t create any difference to the society. Why do you have to make someone’s orientation their identity? Hume utna normal banana hai. Utna acceptance hona chahye.
Do you think it’s also important to not make homosexuality look forced in a story while including such a character in a series or a film?
It is. And Aarya, I think, is the best example to show how not to make it look forced. Someone recently asked me ‘why do they have to just put it there in every web-series? It has become a forced trend now’. But then while saying, she herself realised that Khan is not a character you can actually object to. She said ‘no-no, I think Khan is quite cool because it’s not loud. It’s normal and subtle like others are’. I don’t remember at least in India, any content that has shown homosexuality so normally. It’s mostly added to gain more eyeballs. The treatment given to a gay character is not normal so it doesn’t appear normal to the audience.