Aparna Shastri explores queer representations in Indian film

Aparna Shastri explores queer representations in Indian film
  1. Could you offer a short precis of your argument or critical observations? I'm particularly curious about the terms "de-closeting" and "queer revelations" and what they mean in the context of your chapter.
    My paper deals with the increasing queer representations in Indian, Hindi-language films and web series, particularly after two major events in India’s socio-cultural landscape: the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal code, which meant the decriminalization of homosexuality (2017), and the rapid advancement of digital television technologies or ‘Over-the-top’(OTT) media platforms in India. These two events, when studied together, can be seen as pivotal catalysts in the development of stories that were driven by LGBTQIA+ characters for numerous web series and mainstream Hindi films (even other regional cinemas within India). The goal of my paper was to closely examine this moment via a textual study of specific scenes from three media texts (two films and one web series) in which the queer orientation of a character is revealed to other characters in the story. In these scenes, I posit the Indian cinema spectators as voyeurs into queer lives and identities, and decenter the usual, ‘normal’, romanticized, and sometimes extravagant displays of heteronormativity in major mainstream Hindi films. Thus, ‘de-closeting’ in the context of my paper, essentially marks the ‘coming-out’ moment of a gay character. These moments of queer revelation serve to be emblematic of Indian society’s voyeurism towards gay people and their private lived experiences, thus revealing queerness to predominantly conservative, hetero-patriarchal Indian media spectators within heteronormative frameworks of cultural and institutional life.  
    2. What motivated you to write about this topic? 
    As a student of visual culture, I am always interested in close examination of media texts and their impact on spectators. I am an avid viewer of many Hindi language web series and South Asian cinema and was noticing a pattern of changing storytelling practices in many series. There had been bold films with queer-driven storylines in India before 2017-2018 but they were met with extremist reactions (and violence) from conservative political groups and very little enthusiasm from audiences. What had changed was the new-found bravery of some contemporary filmmakers and storytellers who were placing gay lives front and center in their plots and were unabashedly exploring gay intimacy on screen as well. There has been increased dialogue on queerness in India’s cultural conversations and gradually more acceptance of queer themes from an evolving Indian media audience. These changes led me to trace the literature on queer depiction in Indian films over the years and to pick out some common threads and crucial case studies to work on. The perfect opportunity to write a paper on these themes was during Dr. Roger Lancaster’s Gender and Sexuality seminar, which I took in Fall 2021.  
    3. Could you describe the process for younger students who have not had their work published yet? How long was the process? What was the editing or revision process like?  

    The process was pretty smooth. I found a call-for-chapters called Queer Visuals (from an independent research institute called the Ronin Institute), which focused on queer stories on Indian screens and the related sociocultural entanglements that come with it. It seemed like a great opportunity for this paper I had written about a year ago now. I edited my paper and submitted it to this call and got accepted. Then I received some feedback and suggestions for revisions from the editor of the potential monograph, which was in contract with Cambridge Scholars Publishing. I was able to read my paper again with fresh eyes and incorporate newer insights into it as I was reading it again almost a year after I first wrote it. The process from being accepted to getting published took place over 6-8 months, if I remember correctly.  
    4. What advice would you offer students interested in submitting one of their papers for a journal or book chapter?  

    I think the term papers we write during our coursework in Cultural Studies do carry the potential to be published, but it becomes more a matter of finding the right opportunity at the right time. One of the things I try to do is regularly and deliberately check some common venues for call-for-papers, even when I am not working on something publishable. My advice to other students would be to always keep an eye out for announcements from journals and also to share calls with people who are working in related fields. I also think that getting a pair of fresh eyes on your paper before sending it to a journal goes a long way. I have always benefitted greatly from the feedback of my friends and peers in the Cultural Studies program on my work. 
    5. Where can we read your chapter? 

    The chapter can be read in the print copy of the book, which can be bought on the Cambridge Scholars Publishing Website. I also hope to soon get this book available in Mason libraries and am also working on uploading my chapter to one of the institutional repositories.  

Cover of Gender, Sexuality, and Indian Cinema