Dear Indian Entertainment, why is crossdressing so funny to you?
The audience breaks into rapturous applause as Gutthi sings “Phool Khile hain gulshan gulshan” (Kapil Sharma Show). Comic relief at the expense of men dresses as women is not uncommon in Indian entertainment industry. What may have started as a necessity in the times of Shakespeare, when women were not allowed to act, has turned into something quite different in the modern context.
If Gutthi, Palak or Daadi were played by women, acting in the same sexually charged (ermmm.. horny) and irreverent way, would we be laughing so much? Or if Gaurav Gera’s ‘Chutki’ character was actually a female actor, would we be quite as amused?
Bollywood has a long history of making prominent actors dress up as women at various pretexts to extract laughs from the audience. Be it Riteish Deshmukh in multiple movies, or Saif Ali Khan and Ram Kapoor in the cringeworthy Humshakals, the hilarious idea of having straight men lust after crossdressing men has become an excuse for feeding the insecure hypermasculinity expected from the hot-blooded Indian Man, who would otherwise feel quite uncomfortable to see gay characters cozy up.
The hilarious idea of having straight men lust after crossdressing men has become an excuse for feeding the insecure hypermasculinity
All our top ‘heroes’ have dressed in frills and make-up in various films, like Akshay Kumar in Khiladi, Aamir Khan in Baazi, Sanjay Dutt in Mera Faisla, Govinda in Aunty no. 1, Salman Khan in Jaaneman, Amitabh Bachchan in Laawaris, and the list goes on. While some of these roles can be explained away as demand of the script (mostly a pretext to enter girls’ hostels), most are contrived to remind the collective consciousness that a man dressed as a woman is the butt of jokes. Heaven forbid, this may actually be a way of life for many real individuals, and they may feel safe enough to express their lifestyle choices in this society!
While adapting men’s clothing may actually be seen as upward social mobility for a woman, a man dressed as a woman is a caricature
If you think about it, why is the reverse practice not enticing enough for comedy? Maybe they tried a little in Dil Bole Hadippa. But in most cases, a woman dressed as a man, is just being a ‘modern’ woman, right? While adapting men’s clothing may actually be seen as upward social mobility for a woman, a man dressed as a woman is a caricature, reinforcing society’s stratification of inferiority of women and everything associated with them, be it make-up, jewellery or emotions. What better way to abuse a man than say, “Isko bolo Chooriyan Pehen le”?
When will we say it is okay for men to wear bangles and for women to wear trousers, or anyone in between to wear whatever they want and express themselves however they want? Come on Indian entertainment, we are moving towards a more accepting society, and we are not laughing at crossdressing anymore.
Views are the author’s own