Long before most of you reading this were born, there was an avatar of Hindi cinema that would’ve forced the 21st-century moral police (the Nari Mukti Andolan variety) into overtime-work mode. More than 75 years ago, the film Karma, 1933, had a long sequence of Devika Rai smooching Himanshu Rai. If that was the high (pun unintended) point of Hindi cinema, things plunged into an abyss soon after (or the other way around, depending on your perspective).
There was a long period of famine when onscreen kisses didn’t flower. Apart from the odd Mera Naam Joker, 1970, and Satyam Shivam Sundaram, 1978, filmmakers depicted the blossoming of love only with trembling lips, fluttering eyes, an overdose of coyness and that Bollywood USP: Two swaying flowers. Ah, love in all its glory and innocence.
Cut to. A new era.
When Aamir Khan locked lips in a marathon session with Karishma Kapoor in Raja Hindustani, 1996, everyone gushed about how Hindi cinema had finally come of age. Sure enough, there are more Bollywood’s kisses than good scripts these days. Most actors are fine with onscreen smooching. Deepika Padukone, Lara Dutta, Hrithik Roshan, Rani Mukerji, Nandita Das, Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Arunoday Singh and even Ms Goody-Two-Shoes Aishwarya Rai have liplocked. Does this mean we have really come of age? Don’t be fooled. Bollywood is still battling with the dilemma of the kiss.
Here’s the problem. Kissing onscreen is not yet a natural act in Hindi films. If it were, as directors and actors claim, why would the carefully generated pre-publicity of the film revolve around The Kiss? Since it is still not natural, the kiss is used to generate the voyeur’s curiosity and/or to show the ‘mature’ handling of a bold subject. Take the case of Ketan Mehta’s Rang Rasiya (Unreleased). Starring Randeep Hooda and Nandana Deb Sen, all talk of the film has only been about bold and topless scenes and, of course, kissing scenes.
Not just that. If the kiss is such a natural act, why do the quotes of actresses agreeing to kiss onscreen turn into headlines? Case in point: Starlet Sherlyn Chopra. Even a Bollywood biggie like Rani Mukerji’s kiss in No One Killed Jessica (2011) became the talking point. Let’s face it. A kiss in Hindi cinema is still a tool either to titillate the masses or to sell the film to the distributor. Don’t believe actors who say they are fine with kissing if the “script demands it” because, frankly, which script doesn’t? Clever filmmakers will twist and tweak their story to fit in titillating bits.
Moreover, how does one explain the unfair branding of actors who agree to kiss? Emraan Hashmi will always be the Serial Kisser (Murder, 2004,Aksar, 2006, Gangster, 2006) while poor Mallika Sherawat will never be able to play down her “17 kisses” in Khwaish, 2003, during her lifetime. Proof positive that the kiss is still a big deal in Bollywood.
Those in favour of onscreen kissing forward the clichéd argument that India, being the land of Kama Sutra and Khajuraho, has an erotic history so what’s the big deal about a kiss. Others say that if kissing in real life is natural, a cinematic kiss should not be any different. These arguments ignore the crucial elements of privacy and sanctity, not to forget relevance. If a kiss is used for salacious reasons, it loses its appeal. Vidya Balan’s kiss inIshqiya, 2010, didn’t look out of place. But Katrina Kaif’s in Boom, 2003, was laboured. See the difference?
Bollywood should learn the difference between a natural kiss and a planted one. Until then, please don’t kiss and tell. Two flowers, anyone?
a column by Shilpa Gupta