Choreographing Sex & Kissing Scenes And Calling ‘Cut’ To Protect Actors: Meet Bollywood’s 1st Intimacy Coordinator Aastha Khanna!

In this candid interview, Bollywood’s 1st intimacy coordinator Aastha Khanna talks about choreographing sex and kissing scenes for movies.

In this candid interview, Bollywood’s 1st intimacy coordinator Aastha Khanna talks about choreographing sex and kissing scenes for movies!

Kissing and intimate scenes can be very difficult to shoot. Several times actors get uncomfortable and the director insists on a perfect shot! Enter Aastha Khanna, India’s first certified Intimacy Coordinator who styles the scenes in a way that actors feel comfortable and the director gets the perfect shot!

We quiz Aastha on her unique job and how she comes up with ‘choreography’ for intimate & kissing scenes and sometimes, even onscreen moments with sexual violence.

As Bollywood’s 1st intimacy coordinator, you’re already working on big-ticket films like Shakun Batra’s next starring Deepika Padukone. How would you define the job?

Yes, the journey was a little easier for me as I was already working as an assistant director in Bollywood. In fact, I began as an ‘intimacy consultant’ (like the Shakun Batra film) as I was not yet certified then. To put it in simple terms, my job is like a dance choreographer. A dance choreographer comes up with steps for a song, and I have to come up with how an intimate scene will proceed. It could be anything from a kissing scene to a sex scene or even onscreen sexual violence.

Let’s say you had to choreograph a kissing scene in a movie… What would be the first step?  

Understanding the characters definitely! Not everyone kisses or has sex the same way! How people kiss in a small-town is very different from how people get intimate in Mumbai. In some parts of India, couples have had children but never seen each other without clothes. In the crème de la crème society, partners don’t even fart in front of each other. Then there are other things—is it a new relationship or a 10-year-old marriage? I would keep all these factors in mind.

Any kissing scene or intimate moment you choreographed recently which was particularly challenging?

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Oh yes, this one scene comes to mind. I was recently working on a Netflix series. I had to choreograph a kissing scene between two heterosexual men playing a gay couple. Both were pretty awkward and yet the heterosexual masculine culture does not allow men to voice it. To top this, they were also good friends, which was both an advantage and disadvantage. We had open discussions on how and where they are comfortable being touched by the other. So, we had clear guidelines like, ‘You can touch my neck, not my hip etc’. I came up with the ‘penguin touch’ method, where the actors join their foreheads together forming a triangle. So you can hear the other person’s breathing and begin getting comfortable in their space. The scene came out beautifully, and thankfully, they are still good friends!

I am sure your work becomes even more crucial when the intimate scenes involve minors…

Absolutely, ideally, an intimacy coordinator should be present, even if it’s a father-daughter scene that involves hugging etc. I know of this film shoot where the child actor had to throw a tantrum by lifting up her skirt and showing her innerwear. The parents were ok with the scene, but the child actor herself was not ok with doing it. Intimacy coordinators are especially trained to work with minors. For minors, we go with ‘dual consent’—both the child and parent have to agree to the scene. And the child is assured they can change their mind and say no at any stage.

This brings to mind the Anjana Safar incident. During shooting of the movie, actor Biswajeet forcibly kissed a 15-year-old Rekha as the camera rolled. Everyone cheered while Rekha was reduced to tears. How would you stop something like this during a shoot?

I would immediately take the mic and call ‘cut’! That would stop that situation immediately and embarrass the harassers. We are trained in ‘bystander intervention’ and creating a diversion. I can have the difficult conversations later, but for me, the priority would be to stop it from happening immediately!

Have you ever had worked on a scene with sexual violence and how did you choreograph the simulated moments?

I had to recently choreograph a sexual violence scene for a short film. I used athletic guards on the male performer’s genitals which is standard practice. But then I had to come up with some more jugaad for the scene. I literally ended up using a ‘yoga mat barrier’ for the female performer. Which is basically cutting up a yoga mat in the shape of a sanitary pad and wearing it like that. So even when performers are acting, they are comfortable as their genitals are protected with these barriers. So I make a lot of these props myself for such scenes!

Has the role of an intimacy coordinator become more prominent after the #MeToo movement?

In the West, yes, intimacy coordination really took off after MeToo. India’s still taking time to understand the value of the role. But I am proud that the West saw intimacy coordination take off in 2018, and India has a certified coordinator just three years later!


How has your family reacted to your unconventional job?

My parents are the coolest parents on the planet. Everyone has been supremely supportive including my grandparents. My mother’s only concerns were regular professional concerns regarding job security. Whenever I tell this to people, they find it difficult to believe. But honestly, I am the product of an accidental birth lottery!

Image source: Images are representational. Stills from various movies and web series (Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Ajeeb Daastaans, Salaam Namaste, Befikre, Shuddh Desi Romance)

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Sonia Chopra

Sonia Chopra is Senior Editor, Women's Web and has over 15 years of writing and editing experience. read more...

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