Madhuri’s Maja Ma: The Issue With Indian Audiences Wanting Sexually ‘Pure’ Women Onscreen

Bollywood (and the Indian society, at large) needs to understand that women's sexuality is real, and lesbians don’t just hold hands and hug each other. They have sex too.

First, I have a few questions.

The sexuality of men

*Spoilers Alert!

When does Gayatri (Rani Mukerji) find out that her husband is gay in Bombay Talkies (2013)? When her gay male colleague tells her that her husband kissed him.

When does the character of professor Ramchandra Siras (Manoj Bajpayee) get outed as gay in the film Aligarh (2015)? When two men forcefully enter his house and capture the semi-naked images of him and his partner.

Why is Karan (Arjun Mathur) forced to remain closeted throughout his teenage life in Made In Heaven (2019-Present)? Because his mother horribly beats him up after she finds him in the shower with his male friend.

What is the major revelation in the climax scene of The Fame Game (2022)? That the protagonist, Anamika Khanna’s husband had previously tried to kill their son when he’d caught him having sex with his childhood best friend. 

There are two things that all of the characters mentioned previously have in common. The first that they are all men and the second that they are homosexual. The reason I am emphasising upon their gender before their sexuality is to highlight an important point – men, no matter what their sexuality is, are always allowed to be sexual

Versus the sexuality of women

Exactly a year back, while discussing the film, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019) in a class, a lot of us had argued that the film could not be viewed as an accurate depiction of lesbianism. If we are to compare Sweety’s character from that film to the characters of all the gay men mentioned earlier, we might realise that her family never catches her engaging in any sexual act with her lesbian partner. Her sexuality, instead, is assumed by her elder brother after which she comes out to her family in a ‘socially acceptable’ manner.

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In fact, Sweety hardly does anything with her partner that can even remotely be considered as sexual or even romantic. 

Today when I sat down to watch Maja Ma (2022), I did so expecting something that would be different from Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga and Dedh Ishqiya (2014). I desperately hoped for Pallavi’s (Madhuri Dixit) character to be allowed what all the gay men had been allowed in Bollywood films and various other Indian web series – the basic right to explore her homosexuality with her lover. However, to my great disappointment, she is denied any and all sexual agency. 

Love that must be ‘pure’ if it is woman

In the second half of the film, Pallavi lectures her son about her sexual orientation and explains how she ‘loved’ her ex lesbian partner and did not indulge in any sexual act with her. While it is her choice to decide how and what she wishes to do with her girlfriend, her entire argument seems to be about morals. Not only does she completely separate lesbian love from lesbian sex, she also makes it appear as if all good women must remain virgins till they’re married.

Both of these seem extremely problematic to me. 

I have to admit that I did tear up in the end when I saw Pallavi and her ex-lover, Kanchan (Simone Singh) dance wholeheartedly the way they used to when they were young girls in love. Nonetheless, having said that, I must point out the film failed to do justice to the lesbian lovers. They both might have wonderful husbands who might not be against their sexual identities. But, is that a good enough reason for the two women to remain in marriages that lack sexual chemistry? 

Bollywood (and the Indian society, at large) needs to understand that lesbians don’t just hold hands and hug each other. They have sex too. No matter how hard it is for our society to accept the fact that it is possible for two women to have sex, sexual intimacy has a huge role to play in a lot of lesbian relationships. Even though sex is not the only important thing in the lives of us lesbians, I feel the need to mention that a lot of us would simply die if we were told that we had to make do with just kissing our partners and looking into their eyes. 

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About the Author

Upasana Dandona

A dysgraphic writer who spends most of their time watching (and thinking about) Bollywood films. read more...

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