Using the Box of Crayons: Media Representation of LGBTQIA+ in Today’s India

Saatvika Reddy SathiLaw

Using the Box of Crayons: Media Representation of LGBTQIA+ in Today's India

In April 2022, we organised our first online conference on “Abuse and Harassment in the Cyber Space: Beyond the Perceptions of Main Stream.” This conference included 12 Instagram Live sessions, and two panel discussions broadcasted live on YouTube. Since then, it has been a long time, but we have strapped on our boots again and are ready to go. Our conference saw two panels of six members, each from different spheres of life with varied experiences. These panel discussions had one common theme: panel members had the courage and bravery to accept their truth and advocate for an inclusive and non-discriminatory society. 

We will publish a series of articles in the next few weeks. These articles convey the outcomes of major talking points discussed in the panel discussions. They cover the thoughts of our esteemed panellists, opinions, newspaper articles, and relevant research. Through this research, we seek to present an understanding of various issues faced by the queer community. Alongside this, we hope to suggest possible recommendations and interventions by different stakeholders to create an inclusive environment for the community. 

The Cyber Blog India welcomes any queries and recommendations from our readers and fellow stakeholders.


In the words of RuPaul, “When you become the image of your own imagination, it’s the most powerful thing you could ever do.” He couldn’t have put this better. After all, the media plays a significant role in influencing the public. It comes in many forms; however, specifically, film and theatre have had a persisting and long-lasting impact on the public. It thus brings us to observe the parties who influence, the ones who are the “image” of the imagination—the artists themselves!

Indeed, we can say that artists are the ones who live the story. They bring the characters alive. But what remains unsaid is how they are represented to the outside world. After all, the world inside a film always differs from the real world. However, in many ways, both worlds influence each other. Consider an actor who has brilliantly played the role of a villain. The public at large might troll him in the real world for the negative character he played. However, he is not that character in real life.
Conversely, an actor who has been in the public’s eye due to his scandals is not likely to play a gentle and pure character in a film. Due to public opinion, both worlds are, in some ways, intertwined. Yet, the film industry continues to expatriate one community, the LGBTQIA+ community.

Indian Context

In India, traditional dance forms have always allowed traditional dance and theatre drama to portray both male and female gender roles or even non-binary roles. Actors and dancers, no matter their gender, can play any of these roles according to their acting skills and abilities. Unfortunately, the Indian film industry has taken a step back from displaying various gender roles. When a film has a gay character, it is usually for mocking or satirical roles. Even though the Indian government has taken affirmative action programs to strengthen the voices of the queer community, society does not seem willing to accept their representation through media.

In the Fire (1996) film, Deepa Mehta brought the idea of homosexuality to the public as it portrayed two Hindu women in love. In 2004, a heterosexual male writer-director, Karan Razdan, received homophobic backlash for his film Girlfriend. This film also incited angry protests by Indian queer activists. Through such incidents, we can see that the portrayal of queer activities through digital media arouses a lot of hostility from society. However, there seems to be a new hope with the passing decades of the twenty-first century.

Movies like Margarita with a Straw by Sonali Bose, Aligarh by Hansal Mehta, and Memories of March by Sanjoy Nag has received great approval from the queer community. Nagarkirtan became the most iconic transgender film, winning four national film awards. Many such movies bring out novel stories that shape the views of today’s Indian society.

What’s Next?

As we see further progress in such representation of the queer community, many still hope that such representations manifest in mainstream film media. The filmmakers in mainstream films often portray a queer person as a special character. This character design seems to be singled out by other characters in the film. Unfortunately, this directly influences the perception of the general public towards queer people.

Hiten Noonwal, a panellist, said he enjoyed watching the American HBO series Euphoria. According to them, series do better than movies. “Because they don’t see a queer person as queer.”, they said. A queer person is treated very normally, like any other person. Perhaps, in this way, there is more possibility of shaping the society’s attitude towards queer people.

On the one hand, there is a clear need for the film industry to have better queer representation. On the other hand, there is a pressing concern to hire queer persons for such roles, or even for any role. As Patruni Shastry, one of our panel members, puts it, “A transperson cannot play Beyonce. However, Beyonce can play the role of a transperson.” Their statement certainly puts forward a perspective. To what extent are members of the queer community allowed to play heterosexual roles? Are they even allowed to act? Many members of the queer community possess these skills. However, they are highly underrated. We all know them as drag artists, Patruni added.

Many Gen Z and millennials have witnessed the charms and talents of drag artists in RuPaul’s Drag Race. Drag artists can play any character, even if it is a figment of their imagination. They do it so perfectly and accurately that they leave their audience amazed by their cham. In India, drag queens have become brave icons of the queer community as they gained a lot of traction in the past few years. Many have shown how anyone can play any role, from Sushant Divigkr (aka Rani Ko-HE-Nur) to our panel’s very own Patruni Shastry. “Hire them”, Patruni says. And hopefully, we will soon witness a new change in the industry.


The future appears optimistic and leans towards a more comprehensive representation of the LGBTQIA+ community. While we see a twofold problem in the representation, there seems to be a small but gradual change in our film industry. Stars like Rani Ko-He-Nur continue to inspire many other queer artists as they come forth to express their individuality and charm through their acting talents. With gradual changes in the media representation, we can hope to see a change in societal attitudes towards the queer community.