With Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Om Shanti Om’s ‘Jag soona soona lage’ playing in the background, an excited man walks up to a couple. He gets angry seeing the couple canoodling and takes a salty exaggerated U-turn. This catches the couple’s eye and the boyfriend proceeds to run behind the angry young man, begging for forgiveness.
And if you thought this TikTok love story was about the girl, I’m sorry for your heteronormative mind. That mentality is exactly what many queer TikTok users are now challenging. And what better way to challenge anything in India than with Bollywood?
— Aniket (@aniketchitnawis) February 16, 2020
From making rotis for your partner after you not-so-convincingly burn your hand to sneaking in small kisses when no one’s looking, Bollywood songs are being used by TikTok users to depict romance between same sex couples. No matter that these are the same songs from the same movies that are regressive and homophobic, but still, it’s a language of love India understands. Users are relying on the same industry that has traditionally earned some cheap laughs at the expense of hysterical trans characters. For instance, Bollywood’s regressive portrayal of a trans character can be drawn from Rakhi Sawant and Riteish Deshmukh-starrer Masti (2004). After a loud sequence of flirting and eventual kissing, Deshmukh finds that Sawant can pee standing up. Deshmukh says he rather brush his mouth with a toilet plunger than kiss a transgender. Just your casual, run-of-the-mill transphobia.
But trust India’s TikTok users to be subversive, and have fun doing it. TikTok is a democratic medium, and its reach beyond India’s big cities is well known. When the times are a changin’, you will see it on TikTok.
Bollywood on its head
What’s best about this content is that it showcases multiple shades of the queer community. A boy teasing the audience to ‘Mungda main gud ki dali’, transforms the next second into a beautiful drag dancing to the same song. This is the same song that was performed by Helen and started with a zoomed-in shot of her midriff. She is surrounded by multiple men hounding her. This, in contrast to a TikTok user reinventing it into drag, depicts how Bollywood has landed up on itself.
No better way to make drag more accessible. Bollywood! pic.twitter.com/152mETiUEW
— Aniket (@aniketchitnawis) February 16, 2020
In fact, a transwoman’s video thanking her followers for liking her content has received over 80 lakh views, and she has 25 lakh followers on TikTok. It would also be a stretch to argue that only Bollywood songs are being used as a crutch to promote these queer narratives. Many videos also promote Tamil and Telugu songs.
This is not to say that some TikTok clips were not cringe-worthy. A lot of them involved exaggerated crying, pointless hair-flips and videos oddly zoomed in and out promising the viewer a headache. Some users don’t spare the unnecessarily sensuous ‘Ek mulaqat ho’ where the actor invites the damsel in distress to the big bad corporate world. However, the TikTok video reinvents this song to show a gay couple kissing when no one’s looking, and shy laughter after the deed is done.
At the same time, the comments on these videos are oddly encouraging. Some comments on queer couples are flirtatious in nature and say, “Jaldi shaadi karlo (get married soon)”. While others are jokingly threatening, “Dhyaan se rakho koi le jaayega (treat her/him/ they well or else someone else will woo them)”. It wouldn’t be an overshot to say that Tik Tok is slowly emerging to become an encouraging platform for queer Indians.
Only on TikTok
From videos that show boys and girls going to ridiculous extent to prove love to romanticising slapping in relationships, TikTok has no middle ground on the content it has to offer. It has empowered the everyday person to live his, her or their few seconds of tinsel town-like fame. So, it has become one of the most accessible platforms in India today.
With Instagram solely promoting a certain influencer-like lifestyle that most people can’t achieve, Facebook being reserved for your nosy aunties and Twitter becoming a rant space for political correctness, TikTok becomes the saving grace for all entertainment and cultural enlightenment. Turns out, it’s giving a few lessons in being inclusive too. And not just for city dreamers.
Playing on the element of surprise, these videos aim to shock you out of your heteronormative thinking, just like the man who thought his boyfriend was going to shoot him, instead he got a sloppy kiss on the cheek.