‘After shooting intimate scenes you felt, Oh my God! What an obstacle we have surmounted’
Mahesh Bhatt Filmmaker
How do you think the trend has changed over the years in the way sex is depicted in Bollywood?
I think we are progressively leaning towards making sexual pleasure guilt-free on the celluloid at least. When I began my journey, my first film Manzilein Aur Bhi Hain was banned. This was in the 1970s. I made it at the age of 21. It dealt with the story of a prostitute and two convicts on the run, where they have a kind of, what is called an open relationship. It was banned because it subverted the institution of marriage. My predecessors believed only good people fall in love and bad people have sex. This was the simple thing — falling in love is the aspiration that should be endorsed and having sex is something that should be outlawed. The garden needs to be weeded off this thing called lust.
Things have changed drastically. In the new century, I consciously made films like Murder and Jism. In Jism, for the first time we had a female protagonist saying, “The body does not know love, it only knows lust,” and unabashedly says, “I have used my body as a tool to titillate.” Even Tolstoy did it. Anna Karenina has to pay the price for her passion. Things have changed in India and the super success of Raaz, which has a high dose of erotica, Murder and Jism proved that it was no longer a product consumed by the sex-starved industrial worker in dark lanes in some third-grade cinema hall. In the coldest winter of Delhi in 2003, I remember women in expensive embroidered shawls and rich cardigans watching Jism.
So India has changed ever since. [During] the marketing of Murder, I very clearly told Mallika [Sherawat] that she must go out and say, “Look everybody is a cliché.” All the sex that we have in our film is part of the narrative. Why don’t you go and say we have gone all out to titillate and we will not pretend and be hypocritical, and that’s when the phrase was given to her to use — “I’m the audio visual viagra for the Indian audience.” So it did create a kind of a milestone in marketing.
When you are shooting intimate scenes, do the actors improvise? Or do you find it better to give instructions?
I am 62 years old. Now, my director is young. He is 30, half my age. But when I would shoot what is called an erotic scene, there was an unconscious tension. The baggage was there somewhere in my conscience, weighing me down, “Oh my God, I am doing something forbidden.” I remember, while shooting Murder and Jism, my juniors requested me that I should not be on the sets. Anurag [Basu] shot the erotic scenes in Murder and Pooja [Bhatt] shot the scenes in Jism. Even in Murder 2, Mohit Suri’s way of shooting Jacqueline [Fernandez] and Emraan Hashmi’s love scene is different.
Earlier, whenever there was an intimate scene, there was a phrase “Jiski zaroorat nahin hai set se baahar chale jaaye, bas jiska kaam hai wohi rahe,” and the lady would come with great tension and everybody had this feeling of doing something impure and sinful. Like a necessary evil to get out of the way, and when we finished, you felt, “Oh my God! What an obstacle we have surmounted.”
Do you feel sex in Bollywood plays a role in forming notions about sexuality?
Hardly. I would say that the country has moved miles ahead. The moral references of the youth are way beyond what Bollywood has been able to capture. So because of that the films seem a little pale and look timid. The real life has got more audacity.
‘I do not think there is anything remotely sexy about Bollywood’
Which is your favourite erotic scene from Indian cinema?
I don’t really like Bollywood and don’t think there’s anything remotely sexy about it. I mean Indian films and the whole tradition of titillation is something I do not care for. But I feel the closest Bollywood came to that titillation factor was in Mr India. For me, it was a classic example of how India is and how sex is supposed to successfully last in the mindset of moralist India — by putting an incredible sex scene in a children’s film.
There is an oral sex scene in Gandu, something never been done before in Indian cinema. How did the actors relate to it?
It’s actually quite funny because Rii, the girl in that scene, is my girlfriend and actor Anubrata was living with us at that time for a month and a half. They are close friends. They are very comfortable with each other, but obviously not in a sexual way. They were looking at me for some kind of signal as to what to do, but I just asked them to do whatever and draw from their porn experience… what they would have done if they were in a porn film. It was all about improvisation. I did not have a script for the film.
‘I had to be practical —the noses have to go there, a little right, the lips on the left’
Aparna Sen Filmmaker
How has depiction of sex in cinema evolved over the years in Bollywood?
Early on, in fact very early on, when you had running theatres, kissing or straight mouth-to-mouth kissing was very much there. But then came a time when suddenly there was a lot of modesty. The mouth-to-mouth kissing was replaced by running around the trees, gyrating. My father [Chidananda Das Gupta] has written very well about this in the collection, Seeing is Believing. Eroticism found a kind of form in songs and dance but now, of course, it’s aiming to become more realistic and you have mouth-to-mouth kissing once or twice in a film. Even though I have never really made a Bollywood film, I introduced mouth-to-mouth kiss in 1981 in my film 36Chowringhee Lane. We had a problem with the censor board and they gave the film an A certificate.
What are the challenges of shooting an erotic scene?
As a director, I can tell you that I have found it difficult to depict sex in cinema, not because of anything else, but because of the censor board and the actors who do not feel comfortable shooting sex scenes. I really had to work very hard at that mouth-tomouth kissing scene in 36 Chowringhee Lane. I had to be very practical about it and make it much more technical — the noses have to go there, a little right, the lips have to be on the left — without harping on the emotional content of the kiss because if I did, the actors would become self-conscious.
In my film Paroma (1984), which was the most explicitly erotic film I have ever made, I found it a little difficult because Rakhee was wrapped up like a mummy. She always had a sheet covering her and only her shoulders were bare. Because of the censors, you cannot do very much, but you have to devise new and different things. I devised a way where she is wearing his shirt, which immediately suggests that he is bare-chested. It suggests something. Another device is to make the thing funny, because if you add humour, it takes away from the embarrassment. Rakhee didn’t want to do a mouth-tomouth scene, so I devised a way in which she didn’t really have to do it, but it looks mouth-to-mouth.
As an actress, I have done a very erotic scene. It was in one of my early Bangla mainstream movies with Uttam Kumar. I was very young and not quite comfortable with it, but Uttam Kumar is a very good actor and he made me feel very comfortable. The scene is that we are by the seaside under a canopy. I think he is cutting an apple or something as we chat. He cuts his thumb and I take it and suck the blood. That’s all that happens. I simply look into his eyes and suck the blood out of his thumb. It is a very erotic moment. I found it easy to do even at that young age of 20 or 21. I was comfortable doing it because it did not include taking off clothes.
‘I look into his eyes and suck the blood out of his thumb. It is a very erotic moment. I found it very easy to do’
Do you think sexuality in Bollywood is mostly depicted from a male point of view? Yes, whichever films I have seen, I found that thing. It is the male gaze. But what is interesting is that all this is changing. Recently, I saw No One Killed Jessica where Rani Mukerji plays a journalist. There was a scene where she was having sex with a guy and then suddenly a telephone call comes. She shoves the man aside and walks off. This is very interesting. Another thing that is interesting today is that even men are considered sexual objects. It is essential for a Bollywood hero to have muscles and six-pack abs.