So I just finished watching a brand new web-series from the brand new channel ALTBalaji, which as the name suggests, is a brainchild of veteran producer Ekta Kapoor. Yes it is a gay love story, and it is actually refreshing to see something like this coming from a production house which has dominated the saas-bahu genre for almost a decade now. In fact this was the first time that I bought a subscription for an online channel, just to see how the first season ends (only the first five episodes out of the ten are free). And now that I have a three-month subscription, I will check out the other series too, which look promising as well.
Romil and Jugal (R&J) is a modern-day Indianised adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and quite evidently, the protagonists have been named after these characters. They are neighbours – cool dudes coveted by girls, but they are different. They like men. Jugal (Manraj Singh) is someone who has come to terms with his sexuality long ago in his early teens, and has made attempts to brush girls aside since then. On the other hand, Romil (Rajeev Siddhartha) is still struggling to accept himself, and pretends to be interested in girls due to obvious reasons. But destiny has planned to bring them together, and as you would expect it, hell breaks loose.
The fun thing about this series is, it has all the elements of a typical Indian series or movie – romance, melodrama, music and dance, angry parents. But it does not get you bored. Reason? It is different, and progressive, to say the least. It is wonderful to see how entertainment has moved on from treating homosexuality as a comic relief as in Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) for example, to giving it a sensitive portrayal in Kapoor and Sons (2016). R&J looks like one such attempt to change people’s minds for the better through a manner that the Indian audience buys – Bollywood style. But had it been a movie, it would have been censored a great deal (India is definitely not yet ready to see and show two men kissing on screen at the theatres), and making a daily soap out of it is totally out of the question. Read: Indian family values.
So yes, a web series works. And it did get me interested in a love story after many days. There are these elements of North-South Indian antagonisms to make it more spicy, but due to some divine blessing, the parents are already progressive enough not to make that an issue. Even more pleasantly surprising, in one scene Jugal’s father reprimands him for not kissing a girl because doing so would have gotten him in the good books of her father, who happens to be his (Jugal’s father’s) boss. You heard me right. Utopian. Facepalm. You would only wish you had a father like that, but not if you are gay. No matter how liberal or educated they are, Indian parents will never accept in one go that their children might have different choices. And the fact that it is completely natural. They will Google how to cure their kids of such a “disease”.
The fact that the commercial entertainment industry is now capable enough to deal with such a stigmatic and sensitive issue without creating a furore among the orthodox public is itself commendable. It somehow hints at the fact that we are approaching towards normalising homosexuality. It is not so hush-hush anymore, and a few hundred people openly appreciate this endeavour on YouTube. In a typical Bollywood romance, replacing the girl by another guy (or vice versa for that matter) can be the same level of sweet and lovable. And if the audience prefers commercial medium more than art or documentary, then why not? All that is needed is to spread the message in a mature way. And R&J does it quite well (although my friend who is gay said that having the hots for a muscular guy is too clichéd, but I will give him the benefit of doubt).
Now the story is pretty clear and it just remains to be seen whether they have a happy ending, or end up in a tragedy like Romeo and Juliet. Well I know it already. Maybe you can find out for yourself. In the end, what is to be understood is that, some people are born in a way that might be beyond our comprehension. But so are we to them. They still love us, and live with us. They accept us for what we are and know that it is not something contrived. Why can’t we do the same?
Watch the trailer here: