The PPCC is up with the times, yo!
We went into Dostana with some misgivings. A mainstream Hindi film with a not-unenlightened treatment of homosexuality? Was it possible? Sure, it was produced by Karan Johar
For those that have managed to evade the publicity for it, Dostana's plot is simple: two straight friends, Sameer (Abhishek Bachchan) and Kunal (John Abraham), pretend to be a gay couple in order to sublet a flat from the beautiful, single Neha (Priyanka Chopra). A bond of mega-friendship blossoms between the trio - and soon both men find themselves falling for Neha, while Neha herself begins falling for her new boss, the studly single father, Abhi (Bobby Deol). This love rectangle, which seems fairly impossible to solve without several people getting their heart mushed, is further complicated by wailing, conservative Punjabi mothers (Kirron Kher), lecherous old fashion execs (Boman Irani), demanding children, clueless aunts, and the whole "pretending to be gay" thing.
So, does Dostana make cheap "isn't being gay funny?" jokes? Well, sometimes. But not that much! And overall, it shows that gay people are people too - not the craziest idea for most of us, but certainly unambiguously progressive for India, where homosexuality is still illegal. Even the gay jokes are, thankfully, muted - Boman plays a fairly stereotypical queen, there are some limp wrists and dainty hops, but there are also scenes where characters get over their initial homophobias, where characters shrug and say "Who cares?", and a boy-on-boy kiss. Indeed, the film has a gently neutral attitude towards homosexuality, and a gently satirical attitude towards Bollywood's historical homophobia. For example, the conservative "Nahiiiiin!"-ing mother is lightly ridiculed in the wonderful song, Maa Da Laadla. Even more importantly, she comes around in the end. Furthermore, the long history of homoerotic undertones - Dharam-Veer, anyone? - is teased as well. "Come on!" Abhishek cries at one point. "Gabbar Singh was totally gay!" This may not be envelope-pushing stuff, but Dostana treads an important line: normalizing and mainstreamifying gayness. It's important that it doesn't flop in India. Indeed, it's greatest crime - we reckon - is that it doesn't go far enough in challenging homophobic norms. We at the PPCC will take a pragmatic attitude for now: it's a beginning.
Another reason we're happy to compromise is that, on top of this generally "safe space" vibe of the film, it's also just a fun, frollicking good time. We haven't enjoyed a Hindi film in the theatres so much since Om Shanti Om. Indeed, after the trash we'd been sitting through - Welcome, Krazzy 4, even the mildly acceptable but soulless Tashan - we were becoming a little desperate about the state of Bollywood today. Dostana has thankfully reminded us why mainstream Hindi films can be so good, when they're good. It aims for the usual target - big, juicy masala dil - and gets it, right in the bull's eye. We laughed, we got verklempt - and we can only hope that SRK's upcoming Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi continues the trend.
We can say even more good things about it: the songs are fun, the acting is generally great, and the direction - from newcomer Tarun Mansukhani under Karan's tutelage - is upbeat and skillful. Abhishek displays some wonderful comedy chops that he must have inherited from his dad. Indeed, his jodi with John was stellar - Abhishek's emotional clown act played excellently against John's straight man routine. Indeed, John Abraham was a revelation in this. He didn't do much, in terms of emotional range, but what he did - he did well. Boman and Kirron were hilariously over the top, and Bobby Deol basically just stood and smoldered. Which is what he was there for.
Can we criticize this film? Well, we'll try. As we said, it wasn't 100% pure of those lightly offensive stereotypes, it didn't create a revolution in norms (can a mainstream film be succesful and do that?), and it was a little overlong (a blessing and a curse of the genre, though). However, these are really minor criticisms. Overall, it was less flawed than, for example, last year's Om Shanti Om, which suffered from a bizarre and silly second act. (That said, it was also less emotionally epic than OSO... and we reckon Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi, if the second trailer is anything to go by, will happily compensate us with some super-size masala a la Suhaag. YAY MASALA!)
Go, go see it.