Friday, September 24, 2010


Described as an “entertaining love story” on its back cover, Hostel Room 131 opens in Belgaum, Karnataka, with the protagonist, Siddharth, going to the police station to lodge a complaint against his ‘in-laws’ for hiding his beloved, Su, from him. Su, as we learn, is Sudhir, an engineering student at a college in Pune, with whom Siddharth is having a torrid, and of course clandestine, affair. Their cover is finally blown by Ravi Humbe, recalling Chatur Ramalingam in 3 Idiots, a Belgaum boy and Su’s hostel-mate. Siddharth is threatened by Su’s menacing uncles — the “carnivores” — and forced to return to Bombay, abject and lovelorn, shedding copious tears like a typical Bollywood hero jilted in romance.

The first section of the book is perhaps the most promising, as R. Raj Rao distinctly captures the seediness, undercurrent of hostility and obsession with honour in provincial India. The coexistence of puritanism about heterosexual relations with an unsuspecting tolerance of homoerotic friendships is a disconcerting feature of repressed societies. But the consequences tend to be deadly if such male intimacies turn actually sexual. So, while enlightening the unsophisticated small-towner Sudhir, the educated urbanite Siddharth keeps recasting Bollywood classics like Zanzeer, Sholay and Kala Patthar as essentially gay narratives cloaked in the garb of machismo. Amitabh Bachchan, who seems to have an unexpected hold over the gay imagination, is perceived as being actually ‘interested’ in the men around him — Pran, Dharmendra and Shashi Kapoor — rather than in Rekha or Jaya Bhadhuri. The singular lack of irony, or of humour, in such solemn pronouncements takes the edge out of Siddharth’s subversive homosexual (mis)readings, and makes him sound like a rather insipid “homopolitical” man.

Full review here Telegraph

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