chapter  6
13 Pages

Queer times in Bollywood

WithRama Srinivasan

When Rukmini Bai (Shabana Azmi) snuggles into Zeenat’s (Smita Patil) bosom in Shyam Benegal’s Mandi (Marketplace, 1983) unaware that a young gentleman is caressing the latter’s feet one can’t help but wonder if the film is aware of its homoerotic moment. The next morning Rukmini discovers the young man under the bed and admonishes Zeenat for betraying her. While encompassing stories of many women in a brothel, the film centers on the relationship between these two women that reeks of desire. Rukmini, the matron of a cramped brothel, grooms Zeenat as an artiste and not a prostitute. Growing up among women who get paid for sex, Zeenat longs for sexual adventure and finds it in young Sushil. This relationship would not be tolerated by the jealous, smothering maternal figure. The girl too, while playing around with the obsessed guy, decides to leave the brothel and its matron when she sees the latter getting cozy with a patron. She is jealous of their close proximity and frustrated at her non-existent sex life. Both feel cheated by the other. Ruth Vanita in her analysis of Dosti and Tamanna lists primacy, exclusivity, duration and intensity among others as indicators of the importance of reel relationships, to be particular, same-sex relationships (Vanita 2002: 149). Rukmini and Zeenat’s relationship definitely scores on all these counts. The queer moment of one night is the high point of Rukmini and Zeenat’s erotic relationship but it also anticipates the future-they are bound together in this apparently self-conscious scene, only to be separated.