Sex & Cinema

Kissing scenes were regarded fine in Indian films till the country gained Independence, following which the Cinematograph Act was enacted in 1952, eventually gaving birth to censorship

Sex in films? No, that was taboo. Films meant family entertainment, the word was never even mentioned in the same breath with films. Sex was purely a bedroom thing, not discussed openly and, hence, never in films. Then there was the omnipresent Censorship. For a long time, for the censors, even kissing on screen was a no-no, not to mention sex.

Kissing was fine in our films till India gained Independence, following which the Cinematograph Act was enacted in 1952, which, in turn, gave birth to censorship, which was meant to regulate the public exhibition of films. To depict a kiss, various suggestive alternatives were devised by the filmmakers.

How were kisses depicted?

Well, it was when two flowers – roses – swung in the wind and touched each other, or two birds coochie-cooing with beaks touching, or the actor emerging from behind a tree pursing or wiping his/her lips! This was the closest a film came to suggesting intimacy, no sex. It was an era when a couple hugged on screen, heroine covered her bust with her arms!

The closest to on screen sex a film would come to was when the villain tried to force himself on the heroine. That looked macabre but the joke was, 'I want to be a film villain when I grow up', as any youth would say. For a long time, even rape scenes culminated with a suggestive scene of milk on a stove spilling over, or a sudden burst of a water fountain. The viewers were expected to understand what it meant.

Kissing was as much a part of Hindi films as it was in Hollywood. Films like Karma (1933) had elaborate kissing scenes. Then, the kiss staged a comeback with Raj Kapoor's Bobby in (1973). Ironically, there were some films made abroad with Indian artistes where kissing was found to be okay for the Hindi audience. Then, how come the same Hindi filmstars could not kiss in a Hindi film made in India? But, the Censor Board in India is never known for its logic or objectivity!

Since the release of Bobby, kissing is now an accepted expression, or rather a norm in our films. If sex was to be implied, the rain was held the biggest culprit. From early film like Dhool Ka Phool to the later day Aradhana, rain led the lovers to a shelter leading to sex. The sex was not on screen but the outcome was there to see in the form of a newborn.

Sex in films was still a taboo. But, it was not an all-India trait. The South made some bold films, especially the Malayalam film industry. Here, titillation was the watchword. These Malayalam films were brought to the Hindi market by small time distributors. They were dubbed in Hindi for a particular market.

There were no computers or smartphones yet. Hence, no online porn. But, the major cities were full of stag migrants. Mostly, the labour class who toiled all day. Alcohol was an alternative. But, cinema it was to unwind for these folks.

These Malayalam films would get a Censor Certificate easily as the rule said that a film once censored could not be censored again for its visuals. Cuts could be affected only if the dialogue carried a different meaning from the original version. These films had a captive audience. And, the dialogue really mattered the least. So metros like Mumbai had cinemas in red-light areas of South Mumbai and suburbs like Andheri, Jogeshwari and so on where these films found ready takers, especially for night shows.

But the enterprising distributors of such dubbed films went a step further when the films were booked for cinemas in the hinterland. Distributors indulged in interpolation and added clips from real porn films in such a dubbed Malayalam film. The result: They drew full houses.

There have been illogical and impractical rulings by the censor board where even foreign films have been asked to cut down on a kissing scene. A kiss is a kiss, how do things change if the footage is reduced? But in India, moral policing is second nature when it comes to others, especially if one occupies a seat of authority. The restriction on the duration of a kissing scene was flouted by breaking a kissing scene for a moment with some other shot and the kiss continued.

Finally, sex as in sexual act that made it to our films was suggestive or implied, rather than explicit. Take the film Razia Sultan (1983) for example. The film indicates all along that the attraction between two women protagonists is rather unconventional.

The films with heterosexual relationships abound, though. In most films, it still remains implied, which may be because of the concerned actors' reservations. The same-sex films don't bother to hide things, as more and more films are now made on same-sex themes.

A film in case can be Fire (1996), starring Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das, where it was depicted without reservations. Since then, we have had Dostana (2008), where John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan pretend to be lovers.

This was followed by Aligarh (2015), a hardcore same-sex movie based on a real life story, Margarita With A Straw (2014), Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga (2019) and the latest, Subh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan, which released just few weeks ago. Kapoor & Sons (2016) also had a track about a gay relationship. Among films to come on the lesbian theme is Sheer Qorma.

How different can films on same-sex love be from each other and justify a feature-film length duration?

The one film that tried to be different and sort of created a sensation was Veere Di Wedding, where one of the female actors is shown masturbating.

The same sex formula seems to have failed at the box office since the only success so far has been Dostana, which was not really about same-sex romance and was, actually, a comedy.

Films need themes with which the audience identifies; have universal appeal.

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