Bollywood’s affair with Chumma!     

Why is B-town so surprisingly awkward with lip-service? Monojit Lahiri explores

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Monojit Lahiri

A caress given with lips. Key to paradise. The blossom of love. The first discharge of a purely physical, sexual sensation, the first crisis of voluptuous pleasure. The kiss has been described in many ways, by the experts, as the mother of all senses! Interestingly, while kissing – in its present form – is said to be rare among the primitive and less civilised races, it appears to be fully-established and almost instinctive in higher societies. The celebrated Dr Kinsey’s Report however throws light on a curious observation. The kiss is more common as a measure of love among the cultured and higher echelons of society. Sociologists believe that kissing was almost unknown in ancient Egypt [Cleopatra didn’t kiss. Only shook hands? Wow!] although widely practised in Assyria and Greece but, mainly as a token of humility and reverence and fully developed in India only once the Aryan influence seriously invaded the land with their s-m-o-o-o-c-h signature!

The sublime language that Shakespeare describes as “the voice of all the Gods that make heaven drowsy with harmony” however had once invaded early Bollywood with a bang but in its latest avatar, is played out in an embarrassing whimper! The passionate, red-hot, 4-minute (longest-recorded kiss in an Indian movie?] shared between the husband-wife team of Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai in Karma (1933) – has never ever been remotely matched in recent times! Consistently shying away [No kissing please, we’re Indians, yaar!] B-town freaked out, for years, simulating this [by showing flowers swaying and then touching, birds (coochie-cooing) in the dumbest way, ever! Over time, kissing did happen in the movies, but in year 2018 lip-service is energetically showcased in tons of movies. The biggest surprise however was the tight-lipped, no-kissing SRK, giving in to the dictates of the script and actually kissing the angelic Katrina more than once [to make up for lost time?] a few years ago in Yash Chopra’s farewell ode to love, Jab Tak Hain Jaan.

Did it work? Did these acts, blending love and lust from hunks and babes get the required reactions from the audiences [the drool, gasp, pant] as expected? Out of the bedrooms and into the public domain, did new-age Bollywood finally manage to take the leap with any real degree of success? From all reports, the answer seems to be a resounding NO! Reasons indicated are many. Film critic Kalpana Nair suggested, “The grammar of Bollywood is usually so dramatised and over-the-top that something as fragile as a kiss invariably pops as a soap-bubble under its weight.

After all, you can’t choreograph it like a sex scene or cue armies of back-up dancers to lend it scale!” The perceptive critic goes on to point out that B-town spent decades filming weird, cheap, titillating sex-scenes, worked its way to some satin-sheeted draped coitus, then shed most of its clothes to [Beautify? Celebrate? Commodify?] the body, only to grapple desperately with the simplest of all acts defining magical, pure love – the kiss! She is spot-on. Never has the female star’s body been so flashily, glamorously and sexily promoted as objects of desire as in the last few years. From Munni to Fevicol the Item Girl – completely wiping out the yesteryear’s Vamp/Cabaret Girl – is played by every single top heroine and remains a critical masala ingredient in its journey to the magical Rs 100 crore club.

Scintillatingly choreographed [with huge focus on the male-friendly gaze], Farah Khan and gang remain committed to turn on the heat and strike target with chart-busters that become veritable anthems, must-play numbers at every party/club/disco/wedding function worth the name! Yet these very same guys can’t seem to transmit even a fraction of the required [gentleness, sensitivity, tenderness] chemistry when framing a simple, believable, convincing kissing scene that will light up the emotive quotient required to ignite the moment.

Why?

Mumbai-based photojournalist Aswathi believes that it has largely to do with two factors. For one, almost without exception, Bollywood stars – heroes and heroines – are totally out of depth in this area because kissing is not a part of the prescribed B-town vocabulary [read: Training] required for success. How does one act out kissing scenes? The discomfort and cluelessness is evident! Secondly, B-town is full of bloated, shoshabaazi stars, [not actors] so layers and nuances are alien territory. Love scenes with kissing falls into this category – a space without props from directors, lyricists, singers, dialogue writers etc. - so it’s a flop show!” 23-year old Mumbai-based assistant director for a production house, Sneha unleashes a stunningly original observation. “It’s amazing, but men can piss but can’t kiss in public!

They don’t think twice about unzipping and letting fly. Koi sharam nahin but the most beautiful and spontaneous act of bonding has them in blind panic mode!” Kolkata-based TV and screen actress and anchor June Maliya offers her own take. The 35-year-old beauty reckons it has to do with the kind of people we essentially are. “To begin with, these romantic scenes are played out in the most unromantic environment of all; with camera, lights and tons of technicians around, the director yelling instructions…does it happen like that in one’s private lives?

Also, we – unlike the West – are not a demonstrative people. So kissing does not come naturally to us, in a, any-time, any-where, any-person mode. Veteran, Delhi-based ad person Esha Guha agrees. “As a people, we are not physically demonstrative while expressing affection, love or passion, so why should cinema be any different? Remember, commercial movies come with built-in mandate of hyping the truth. With the exception of the original serial kisser Aamir Khan and later his enthusiastic successor Emran Hashmi, no one has really come on with great heat. Even the king of romance, SRK in JTHJ was a sensational p-h-u-s-s,” she says. Guha however believes that the actresses have fared better in this area! “Be it Piggy Chops, Kat Kaif, Mallika Sherawat, Anoushka or Deepika…they’ve all displayed greater efficiency – acting skills? – and credibility in the smooch department.

Re-visit their scenes and you’ll agree. The guys are a disaster!” Mumbai-based journo Roma Kapadia comes next with her spin. “Indian society, post-globalisation, may be wanting to make that critical, new-age paradigm shift regarding morality but still feel distinctly uncomfortable while discussing anything to do with sex.

If we can’t talk about it with any degree of normalcy and maturity, how can we ever hope to represent it, meaningfully?” Journo Srishti Jha has her own POV. She believes that film-makers – obsessed with the Rs 100 crore club and convinced that kissing generates excitement, leading to footfalls – incorporate it, come what may. “The heroines, for their turn, are running scared about vetoing it and getting dumped, replaced by another willing girl, so they go along. Also, somewhere they believe that bold scenes and kissing give them an entry into the business, even a ticket to stardom. Why else would everyone from Aditi Rao Hydari to Bips, Priyanka and Katrina kiss and flash flesh? As for whether they enjoy it or not, approve of it or not, ask them?”

Communication specialist Esha Guha winds up the discourse in spicy style. “I think it has to do with the fear of the scary, uncontrollable hormonal rush! A peck on the cheek or on the mouth is both safe and antiseptic, but a full-blooded passionate French kiss – where tongues play starring roles – can lead to problems. Why? Because it unleashes desire and lust that usually zooms to the next destination – and that is certainly not what stars are looking for! Hence, keep it cosmetic and quiet, sweet n’ cute and let the camera and crazy body language imply passion and whatever it is that the scene requires!”

In year 2019, will lip-service enter a new [s-m-o-o-c-h] phase in B-town? Let’s wait and watch…

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