Quiet please, we’re filming a sex scene!

Long a taboo for Indian cinema, sex and its portrayal on screen is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. But we’ve still got a long way to go, writes Suchetana Bauri.

Changing-perception-about-sex-in-Indian-Cinema

Cinema not only reflects a society’s culture but also shapes it. When we see modern Indian films we see how they have promoted modernization, urbanization, westernization, new ways of life, and have inculcated a sense of liberation and emancipation, particularly with regards to sex.

But for a long while we have shielded ourselves from ‘moral reality’ and pretended that nothing was going on behind the closed bedroom door. If you don’t pretend, you don’t get anywhere in India. But we have finally broken free of some of our pretensions.

In recent times, we have seen quite a few ‘sexualised’ flicks being released: Murder, Jism, LSD, B.A. Pass, Nasha, Kamasutra 3d, Ragini mms, Hate Story, Vicky Donor and Shuddh Desi Romance. Bollywood is no longer shying away from sex. It seems we are now part of a sexually candid cinematic revolution. All these films featured sex scenes, while employing body doubles to stand in for the close-ups.

Getting real

Last year alone, a number of films made graphic bedroom action central to their scenarios. B.A. Pass unflinchingly chronicled a mature woman’s sexual relations with a teenage boy. The film went on to win  innumerable accolades at film festivals.

The year before we had the Hate Story, a revenge drama, which left little to the imagination when its heroine uses sex as a weapon to avenge a wrong that was done to her.

Graphic sex is no longer off-limits in Indian film culture. Even as recently as a decade ago there was a widely held perception in the industry and outside that there no one would want to watch these films. But now cinemas-owners and distributors are more mature and are willing to screen these films, allowing viewers to make their own choices.

Sex is now a part of mainstream cinema

It’s been more than a decade since there were anywhere near as many movie cameras in the bedroom. And back then, inevitably, Mahesh Bhatt was at the forefront. After he included love-making scenes in Jism (2003) and Murder (2004), Dibakar Banerjee followed suit with Love Sex aur Dhokha (2010).

In 2010 it was the Bengali film industry’s turn with Gandu, a musical about a young dopehead and his lust for fame and sex. It was banned in India, but still went viral on the Internet, became one of the country’s most talked-about films, with its explicit opium smoking, foul language and masturbation.

Leaked on the Internet, Gandu has been downloaded more than a million times and hawkers openly sell the DVDs. It is now getting government exemptions to be shown on the Indian festival circuit and has opened a serious debate on censorship. It received a warm response at the London Film Festival, and was condemned and celebrated by top film critics across the country.

Such films are no longer part of the fringe, but are actually following mainstream hits like The Dirty Picture (2011) a tale of a South Indian movie siren. Even, the recent Miss Lovely, a film set in the pulpy soft-porn industry of 1980s’ Bombay, has been widely watched and talked about for all the right reasons.

New wave

This new wave is both a product of and a reaction to India’s development since it opened its economy to the rest of the world. Today we have dark-skinned sexually vibrant heroines (in B.A. Pass, Fashion, Jism) that have attained economic independence and are emotionally fearless. In a country where cigarette smoking and drinking alcohol are still chastised, leading women on the big screen are living by their own sexual and moral rules.

These films have been enabled by the new fluidity of Indian society and the current corporate culture that marks a trend of Bollywood productions. For instance, B.A. Pass was produced by FilmyBox and Tango Talkies, headed by Narendra Singh and Ajay Bahl who are newcomers to the industry. Both are outsiders in a world where  nepotistic family ties and formulaic film-making still hold sway.

Missing aesthetics

Everything said and done, weirdly enough, most of these films mentioned above have tackled sex in a rather tacky manner, so their treatment is inevitably freighted with laughs.

So what will it take to normalize sex inasmuch as the wacky world of Bollywood will allow? Perhaps we can look to the West for some lessons.

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