“The kingdoms of Mahan and Akhtar have been at war for three centuries. For ten years King Aman of Mahan has nurtured an especial hatred for the King Kartik of Akhtar for killing his father Shankar during the ill-fated Battle of the Broken Will. For ten years his vengeance grew till it clouded reason itself. However, when the disputed region of Balkar is attacked by an unknown enemy, the two kings must learn to trust each other and unite the two kingdoms in a way that had never been done before.”
Contrary to what might pop into your head at first glance, this passage isn’t the plot of an upcoming Bollywood saga. It actually happens to be a synopsis of “The Glass Mosaic” by HackedByAWriter - a 40 chapter long (as of 15th September 2020) fanfiction on Archive of Our Own, an open-source repository for fanfiction and other fan works contributed by users.
Before I elaborate on what this particular fanfiction is about, I must first talk a little bit about what ‘fanfiction’ actually is, for our unenlightened readers. (If you spend your nights scrolling Watt pad at 3 am, feel free to skip this paragraph). A fic or fanfiction, is as the name suggests, fictional writing written by fans usually based on existing work. These stories are based on novels, movies, TV shows and even video games, and bands! A fic may be the continuation or prequel set in the same universe as the original tale or could be set in a completely different world altogether.
Slash fiction is a genre of fanfiction that focuses on romantic or sexual relationships between fictional characters of the same sex. There are also ‘crossovers’ which in layman terms means the mixing up of stories and characters from different works to form a new, unique creation. For example: “Of Wizards and Heroes” by storyforsomeone is about Harry Potter living in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Coming back to the fanfiction I was originally talking about, “The Glass Mosaic” happens to be a retelling of the popular Bollywood film “Shubh Mangal Zyaada Savdhaan”, set in a fantasy world (really, people from the LGBTQ+ community are not ostracized here). It is one of the 318 works based on the movie and has almost 5000 viewers! This isn’t the only Bollywood movie that has slash fanfiction written about it though. From Sweety and Kuhu from “Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga” to Malik Kafur and Alauddin Khilji from “Padmaavat”, any characters with even a mild undercurrent of homosexuality have slash fics based on them.
The blockbuster movie “2 States” is about two people, Krish and Ananya who are from different states and fall in love with each other. The story follows them as they try to convince their parents to forget these regional differences and give them their blessing for marriage. While the first half of this movie about a heteronormative couple shows the development of their love, the few Bollywood movies that explore same-sex relationships cut directly to the ‘convince the family’ part. Even though coming out is a big part of any queer individual’s life, it is not the be-all and end-all of our lives. We already know of the struggles we will have to face to get our loved ones to accept us.
What most of us want to see on the big screen is not the harsh realities of everyday life but a loving, heartfelt relationship. There is such a dearth of representation in Bollywood that viewers even managed to find homoerotic undertones in the action thriller film War starring Tiger Shroff and Hrithik Roshan. In his article “War: Has Yashraj Finally Embraced Gay Desire?” Pratyush Parasuraman accurately writes, “When a production house that has peddled in heterosexual coupledom collaborates with some of the most bankable stars of our time to produce a thinly veiled gay love story, we’ll take what we get.”
This desire to see an accurate portrayal of same-sex relationships in media is satiated through fanfiction. In these stories, Abhimanyu and Rohan from “Student of The Year” are bisexual, Komal and Preeti from “Chak De India” have palpable sexual tension and Titu loves Sonu, not Sweety in “Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety”.
Fanfiction not only normalizes such relationships but also gives readers a platform to discover their sexualities and understand themselves better in the process. Many fics filled to the brim with sexual content, contain detailed, sometimes unrealistic descriptions of homosexual sex - a topic that our faulty sexual education curriculum completely ignores. Another important component of many stories is ‘fluff’ which is basically code for all things adorable. In slash fluff fics, characters cuddle on Sunday mornings, give each other handmade presents, and exchange loving glances across libraries. The magical realm of fanfiction is a hopeful world where queer readers deserve to be loved in the same way as their heterosexual counterparts.
In the deep dark recesses of the World Wide Web, the writers of queer fanfiction have managed to create a safe space for themselves and for millions of other people from the community who finally have the chance to explore their sexuality and see themselves in stories.
Representation matters, even if it happens to be in the form of words on a tiny screen, under the covers, at night and in incognito mode.