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For long, Bollywood has been shy of showing sexually liberated heroines and erotic scenes in popular movies. Here’s how things changed over time.
Over the past few decades, Bollywood has been famously known for paying a premium on the chastity of its female lead characters. An adarsh, sanskari heroine has been the popular female lead trope. This said woman should be a virgin, she should wear traditionally modest clothes, and in most cases, she is expected to give in to the heroes persistent nagging or stalking and say ‘yes’ finally. Perhaps, most importantly, she should have sex ONLY after she has been married.
For a long time, Bollywood wasn’t even ready to show two people kissing onscreen, let alone delving into the deeper aspects of intimacy. Kissing would be depicted using symbols such as bees sitting on top of flowers or two birds pecking at each other, or some such metaphorical interpretations involving the birds and the bees!
However, it is important to note that historically, Bollywood has not always been so shy of portraying intimacy. In its early days in the 1920s and 30s, erotic scenes weren’t a rare sight in Hindi movies. Bollywood was influenced by its Western counterparts and the joint ventures with foreign production houses resulted in the prevalence of a more liberal atmosphere.
In 1929, actress Seeta Devi locked lips with her male co-actor Charu Roy on screen in the silent movie, A Throw of Dice.
Seeta Devi and Charu Dutt in A Throw of Dice
Image: By Emil Schünemann – http://silentfilmlivemusic.blogspot.in/2011/07/scoring-throw-of-dice-1929-in-wilton-nh.html, Public Domain, Link
Another famous actress, Zubeida, was known for her onscreen intimate scenes and for wearing ‘bold’ dresses way back in the 1930s. The actress Lalita Pawar, who later became famous for her vamp roles in Bollywood, also kissed onscreen in the movie Pati Bhakti in the 1920s.
Perhaps, the most famous of them all is the four-minute-long kissing scene by actress Devika Rani in the movie Karma in 1933 where she locked lips with her co-star and husband Himanshu Rai. The duo kissed over 30 times throughout the movie.
Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai in Karma
When actresses were liberal enough in the 20s and 30s to comfortably portray onscreen intimacy and not give a damn to society’s patriarchal double standards regarding how a ‘good girl’ should be, then one cannot help wondering, what sort of a chastity spell was suddenly cast upon Bollywood that made it glorify only the sati savitri sanskari type heroines?
After India’s independence from the British rule and with the establishment of the new Film Advisory Board, the industry assumed more conservative standards. Erotica became a thing of the past with the formation of the Cinematograph Act 1952. The Act termed kissing onscreen ‘indecent’ and prevented it from being portrayed.
Hence, we see the abundance of flora and fauna being showered upon the silver screens in the 50s and 60s to portray any form of intimacy. It was the age where erotica was depicted only through symbolism.
The maximum acceptable intimacy was restricted to gestures like holding hands or doing a lot of cardio exercises such as running around forests and jumping from mountains to show one’s burning desires.
Even if there were erotic scenes, they were mainly assigned to the vamp character who was a fallen woman and someone with loose morals. This character was portrayed as a ‘lesser woman’ than the heroine herself.
Hence, the portrayal of erotica in movies especially where the female lead is concerned got relegated to the category of art movies. Movies such as Utsav (1984) and Aastha (1997) are some such examples.
However, it was not like every filmmaker took the directions from the Board without any show of defiance.
Film maker Raj Kapoor brought about a distinct change in this trend in the 1970s making his heroines more desirable onscreen with swimsuits or wet saris. Raj Kapoor also included onscreen kissing in his films like Bobby (1973) and Satyam Shivam Sundaram (1978).
Zeenat Aman and Shashi Kapoor in Satyam Shivam Sundaram
How can one forget the emergence of the liberated and glamorous heroine, Dimple Kapadia during this era? Her sizzling onscreen chemistry with male co-actors in movies like Sagar (1985) and Janbaaz (1986) made her a sensation for movie goers irrespective of their genders. Not only was Dimple a sexy diva, but she was also one of the most versatile actresses of her time.
Perhaps, Dimple showed the way to how main female leads could also be sexually liberated and hence, soon after we see Madhuri Dixit lighting up the screen with her sexual chemistry with Anil Kapoor in Parinda (1989).
Slowly, more and more directors brought kissing back onscreen though it was still not widely prevalent in the 90s. During this time, a lot of Aamir Khan movies had him kissing co-stars like Juhi Chawla, Madhuri Dixit, Manisha Koirala and of course, who can forget the long and sensual kiss he shared with Karishma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani (1996)? Raja Hindustani was perhaps another trendsetter in bringing back sexual intimacy back to Bollywood.
Karishma Kapoor and Aamir Khan in Raja Hindustani
However, one thing that strikes the observer from this trend is that maybe, the heroines in Bollywood were much more liberated and free thinking than our heroes. Because, if Aamir’s movies can portray such intimacies involving various actresses, then one does wonder whether a lot of our A-lister heroes shied away from doing kissing scenes for the sake of their ‘good boy’ images?
It was in the early 2000s that erotica started making a proper comeback in mainstream, commercial movies of Bollywood. The period witnessed a slew of bold movies, such as Manisha Koirala starrer Ek Chhoti Si Love Story (2002), Bipasha Basu starrer Jism (2003), Murder (2004) starring Mallika Sherawat, Julie (2004) starring Neha Dhupia and Meghna Naidu starrer Hawas (2004). However, if we analyse these movies, we’d see that most of these actresses were clubbed under the title of ‘bold actresses’ and rarely would we see the mainstream A-listed actresses engaged in such kind of movies.
Emraan Hashmi and Mallika Sherawat in Murder
Even then, these movies did set a trend in their own ways. One of the biggest ripples in erotica might have been created by the movie Murder (2004) where Emraan Hashmi and Mallika Sherawat’s intimate scenes took the erotic portrayal in Hindi movies to new heights.
It is noteworthy to mention here that Bollywood wasn’t shy anymore of showing women as objects of the male desire even in popular movies.
Item songs where scantily women were compared to tandoori murgis or jalti hui bidis seemed to be acceptable. Why? Because a man can lust after a woman, no? But how dare a woman show her desire for men or be a sexually liberated human being just like her male counterpart?
But some heroines questioned this trend. Popular actresses such as Vidya Balan, Radhika Apte, and Kalki Koechlin started performing erotic scenes in movies.
Vidya Balan and Arshad Warsi in Ishquiya
Vidya Balan showed us what body positivity and female sexuality look like by her effortless performances in Ishqiya (2010) and Dirty Picture (2011).
Radhika Apte and Tannishtha Chatterjee in Parched
Radhika and Kalki have both done intimate scenes onscreen and some of their most sensitive portrayals of erotica had been with other women in Parched (2015) and Margarita With A Straw (2014), respectively.
Alia Bhatt and Vicky Kaushal in Raazi
More recently, films like Tumhari Sulu (2017), Raazi (2018), and Manmarziyaan (2018) had top commercial heroines like Vidya Balan, Alia Bhatt, and Taapsee Pannu display sensuality and even passion, in the most charming ways, and the audience was all for it.
Taapsee Pannu and Vicky Kaushal in Manmarziyaan
Image source: YouTube
With trendsetters like these extremely talented actresses, we can only expect Bollywood to become more liberal in its portrayal of sex scenes in the future.
Yes, representing women solely as objects of male desire is wrong but showing a woman exercising her sexual agency and engaging in sex WITH her consent is something that should definitely be embraced by our movie makers.
We are not sati savitris, neither do we want our heroines to be the same in films.
Header image: still from Tumhari Sulu, YouTube
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