Planet Bollywood
Playing it gay: On the sets of DOSTANA
- Steven Baker           Let us know what you think about this feature article

I am in the Miami office of style and fashion publication Verve. The interior, a palette of flamingo colors, is populated by sleek staffers clutching design sketches. It is a typical day on a busy magazine. That is, until a voice booms out, ‘Cut’. The voice belongs to director Tarun Mansukhani. We are not in the US after all, but in Mumbai’s Film City on the sets of Dostana.

It is mid-July, four months before the movie’s release date, and the cast and crew are back from an outdoor shoot, to wrap the last few interior scenes. Outside Studio 16, monsoon rains act as a reminder that the first Bollywood film to be set entirely in Miami, Florida is shot in part in India.

The lavish blow-the-budget sets are Karan Johar’s Miami vice, but there are no complaints from me, as I happily perch on an expensive sofa next to Neha Melwani (Priyanka Chopra). Sharing screen space with PC prompted a string of out of the blue phone calls from long lost friends. Is she beautiful? Yes? Is she as beautiful in real life? Yes. Is she more beautiful in real life or on screen? Cut. What is this? 20 questions?

My first dialogue in the flick announces the arrival of M (Boman Irani) to the office. Fans of The Devil Wears Prada, will be familiar with the inspiration for this scene, as my character delivers a panic-stricken direct-to-camera, ‘He’s here’. In a film considered to be the first mainstream Hindi release on same sex relationships, the element which appears to be missing from Dharma Productions gay rom-com, are gay characters. With so much pre-release speculation as to which characters are gay and who is simply pretending, it was a surprise for most to discover that Boman Irani’s M (absent from the promos) was the only one lusting after the guys.

In what is a strong contender for possibly the most non-gay gay movie ever, my character is that rarest of rare things. When Abhimanyu Singh (Bobby Deol) first comes in front of the camera, the ‘God he’s hot’ aside my character mouths to Neha (Chopra), leaves no doubt as to which side I’m on. It may seem like a throwaway line, but I would like to think it was this gay best friend comment, which prompted Neha to see Abhimanyu as potential boyfriend material.

Sadly, John Abraham and Abishek Bachchan were not required for this schedule. The A-list actors made just one social visit to Film City, for Dostana reasons only. Music directors Vishal-Shekhar, and choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant, did however stop by to complete patchwork shooting which remained on tracks Khabar Nahi and Kuch Kum. Farah Khan, who stamped her trademark steps onto chart buster Desi Girl, also dropped by. At one point, director Tarun appeared to lose his temper, in imitation of Khan’s tough task master approach; before revealing it was a prank.

Critics have intimated Karan Johar changed the climax of debutante Mansukhani’s project. However, he came onto the sets just once in the whole week of shooting. In a stylish monochrome black and white outfit, KJo cut a contrasting figure against a sea of Miami spice wardrobes. In Hollywood, while the Devil may wear Prada, in the Dharma camp, it is reserved strictly for the producer.

Steven Baker is a UK writer who divides his time between London, Delhi, and Mumbai. Best known for his writing on the Hindi film industry, Steven is presently the Co-ordinater of the British Council's Creative Writing course in New Delhi, and writes a weekly column for Hindustan Times. He has also appeared in 20 Bollywood films.


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