It was a languorous Friday evening in Bandra; an edit meet in progress. A proposed piece on a homosexual reading of the film, War, was being discussed. Yash Raj was finally coming out of the closet, and we thought it needed to be written about with quiet dignity, and giddy excitement. The chemistry between Kabir (Hrithik Roshan) and Khalid (Tiger Shroff) felt palpably homoerotic. It is 2019, by no means is it revolutionary to make such content, however subtle. Par Der aaye, Durust aaye; the box office numbers are flooding unchartered territory in commerce.
Anupama Chopra, the Founder and Editor of Film Companion, legs crossed, widened her eyes. "I have a theory. It is the Colonel who is crushing on Kabir."
The evidence is damning. When Hrithik is first introduced as Kabir, he is walking out of an anchored helicopter with brute brokenness, an aged sexuality, and choreographed swagger under the grinding noise of the rotating blades, dust swept up, as are the testosterone of two men, Tiger Shroff, and Ashutosh Rana (who plays the Colonel), who are at length staring… if that is even the word. (Somewhere between a flirtatious glance, and an uncomfortable gaze)
Tiger Shroff plays an unassuming, doe-eyed man looking to be mentored, and clear his name of the heady hangover of his father's betrayal to the country. For this, he seeks Kabir. It is not an unfamiliar setting. Most gay relationships have a wide age gap, the older partner playing both mentor and lover to the younger one who is often coming to terms with their sexuality, shedding the internalized homophobia, and the gearing up towards a confrontational coming-out. The archetypal relationship shows here too- Khalid's deep sincerity but shaky confidence needed to be confronted with Kabir's sense of security with himself and his betrothal to the nation, Desh Prem, and his job.
I mean, we have Hrithik Roshan, representative of aspirational masculinity singing 'Ghunghroo Toot Gaye' as he fluidly taps his ankles. The anklets are missing, but the reference lingers. You don't always need things to be spelt out.
Parmesh Shahani, Head of the Godrej India Culture Lab, and author of the forthcoming book 'Queeristan- LGBTQ Inclusion in Corporate India', noted that the idea of being super committed to one's profession is often something gay men used as an excuse to avoid marriage. Shahani felt this film's homosexual agenda was quite apparent. At one point when a girl proposes to Kabir, Khalid smirks, "Get in line", Shahani and his partner stared at each other in the theater- is this movie actually about… gay men?
Of course this might not have been the intention of the writers, Siddharth Anand and Shridhar Raghavan. When Shahani first told me about this angle, I hadn't yet watched the movie. In some sense, the viewing experience of War for me was a further exploration of this desire; it is all I could see.
But there are moments where all pretences of straight acting masculine men are thrown out of the window when we see Kabir and Khalid fighting off villains, scored to what sounds like salsa music. If you can't show them dancing arm in arm, head on shoulder, hands on hips, then you make-do with the constraints of the format. Arms breaking arms, heads butting shoulders, hands crippling hips.
But it is Chopra's theory that probably stands the test of the film's timeline. In the very end, it is the two of them, the Colonel and Kabir, that we see together, in Australia. They speak of sweet nothings, a rehearsed affair. Even when Kabir goes "rogue" and the Colonel has to reign him in, and Khalid volunteers himself, the Colonel notes. "But you love him." People might see this as an obvious reference to the Kabir-Khalid affair. I saw it as a declaration of jealousy- how dare you volunteer to get closer to the man I have my eyes on.
When a production house that has peddled in heterosexual coupledom collaborates with some of the most bankable stars of our time to produce a thinly veiled gay love story, we'll take what we get.
Here's the thing. War is clearly trying to do something different. The introductory fight sequence of Tiger Shroff is a cinematic first- there's no background score other than the sighs, shrieks, and the crunching and crashing of bones. It is also shot in one take. It is a sign of a mind trying to bring freshness into a genre whose rotten carcass has been recycled endlessly. Of course, the film then devolves into a senseless mayhem of swapped identities and moralities embedded in a travelogue, but the intent is obvious. This reading of gay desire, too, comes from that. When a production house that has peddled in heterosexual coupledom collaborates with some of the most bankable stars of our time to produce a thinly veiled gay love story, we'll take what we get. I mean, we have Hrithik Roshan, representative of aspirational masculinity singing 'Ghunghroo Toot Gaye' as he fluidly taps his ankles. The anklets are missing, but the reference lingers. You don't always need things to be spelt out.
Did I mind that the film did not explicitly go all out?
Not really. Of course the diktats of commerce is one thing. But, attempts at tackling gay desire head on in a commercial format has often given us stereotypes. I am thinking about Pinky from Mast Qalandar (1991), the first portrayal of a gay man in Indian cinema. Even Dostana (2008) for that matter.
In subtlety perhaps, lies the dignity for such a genre. Think Dedh Ishqiya (2014), think Sonu Ki Titu Ki Sweety (2018). The lesbian anthem 'Humari Attariya' and the gay boy love lorn 'Tera Yaar Hoon Main' has a new addition, 'Ghunghroo Toot Gaye'. Gay bars around the country, I suspect, have found the song of the season.