Towards a “Negative Aesthetic”: Bombay Talkies and the Queer Futures of Popular Hindi Cinema

Sameer Chopra

Gargi College, University of Delhi, India. Email:

Volume 9, Number 1, 2017 I Full Text PDF

DOI: 10.21659/rupkatha.v9n1.18

Received February 25, 2017; Revised April 9, 2017; Accepted April 10, 2017; Published May 7, 2017.


This paper examines emerging trends in contemporary representations of queerness in popular Hindi cinema in an attempt to argue against the bourgeoning popularity of “positive images,” i.e. sanitized, tractable portrayals of queer lives on screen that find recognition among sections of mainstream audiences so long as these depictions resonate with one’s desire to see characters who are reassuringly “like us.” This sets forth a normalizing agenda that deems queerness intelligible only when it is shorn of its subversive, destabilizing potential. As a counter-narrative to this trend, I study two shorts compiled in the 2013 anthology film, Bombay Talkies– essentially, my contention is that both these texts feature protagonists (Avinash and Vicky) who are not “positive” or likeable in any reductive sense. Nonetheless, they embody, in their own peculiar ways, the revolutionary potentialities of queerness.  It is precisely for this reason that Bombay Talkies can be considered representative of a negative aesthetic, a term that consciously draws from John Keats’ notion of “negative capability” and its emphasis on embracing “uncertainties, mysteries, [and] doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason” (1818, p. 498). The textual and ideological open-endedness and variability intrinsic to Keats’ concept may help us evolve an interpretive framework that interrogates the prevalence of narrow, “either/or,” “good/bad” representational paradigms specifically geared towards rendering queerness “normal” and “acceptable” in the popular consciousness.

Keywords: LGBT, queerness, representation, popular Hindi cinema, negative aesthetic.

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