As I watched War, I couldn’t help thinking how cool it would be if Kabir and Khalid (Hrithik and Tiger’s characters in War, respectively) were a romantic couple. It would have been the perfect way to mainstream LGBTQIA+ representation in Bollywood.
Last night, I watched War starring Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff, and rather enjoyed it (yeah, I’m a woman who enjoys action movies. The violence not so much, but give me a death defying stunt or two, and throw in a motorcycle chase, and my adrenaline pumps too!)
As most of the reviews say, it largely keeps out the jingoism, even though having a Muslim character “prove his patriotism” seems a bit much. The action sequences, that borrow heavily from the Mission Impossible and Bond franchises, are borrowed well, and despite some predictable turns to the story, it does manage to surprise and thrill.
What really made the movie extraordinary for me though, was the sizzling chemistry that Hrithik and Tiger had onscreen. While everyone else in the theatre was watching an action movie, in my mind, I was watching a romance as well. Hrithik and Tiger as star-crossed lovers, in a tale of passionate forbidden love (forbidden because they are mentor-mentee/co-workers; not because they are gay) really worked for me, and throughout the movie, I was shipping them!
The movie itself hints at that. There is a LOT of subtext in the scenes that Hrithik and Tiger appear in together.
Tiger’s facial muscles barely move, but when his Khalid looks at Hrithik’s Kabir, his eyes light up with a sense of awe and admiration. His need for Hrithik’s approval can be read as that of a mentee’s need for approval from his mentor, yes. But it can also be read as a lover’s need for attention from his beloved. Kabir on the other hand, has genuine affection for Khalid, especially once his initial mistrust wears off.
The film acknowledges this homoeroticism in a few throwaway lines, but it doesn’t go beyond that –unfortunately.
It would have gone a long way in mainstreaming LGBTQIA representation on the big screen in Bollywood, if only they had.
Movies like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha To Aisa Laga or Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan, that focus on the love lives/weddings of LGBTQIA characters are welcome, for sure. But the way to create acceptance/normalization is to center these characters in stories that are not necessarily about their sexuality. Because in real life, sexuality is only a part of a person’s identity. Not all stories about straight people are about their love/sexual lives, are they?
A film like War is the perfect vehicle for that. An action-spy thriller, the plot and story of which would still hold, no matter what the sexuality of the lead characters. But VJ, you say, haven’t you seen this song? Kabir romances a woman in this song, and looks good doing it. So he can’t be gay!
To which I say, maybe he is bisexual. Or maybe he is just pretending to romance her for reasons best known to him. And honestly, his chemistry with Khalid in Jai Jai Shivshankar is way more explosive!
In fact, if Khalid and Kabir were in love with each other, it would add layers of significance to key scenes in the movie! And crush to smithereens the stereotype of gay men being effeminate and weak.
It does seem a bit too much to expect from a Bollywood in which still has a cisgender male actor playing a trans woman; fair skinned actors playing dark skinned ones, and 30 year old actors playing women twice their age!
However, neither Kabir’s or Khalid’s sexuality is specifically mentioned in the movie. There is ambiguity. That’s a minor ray of hope, I guess. I hope someone, somewhere, is writing a whole lot of Kabir-Khalid fan fiction.
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