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A film tackles the politics of consent in sex

Can I kiss you? Maybe. Consent Lavni, a new short film by Agents of Ishq and Sangeet Bari, is an amusing look at a crucial part of sex and romance

Flirtatiously biting her lips, lavni artiste Shakku recounts an encounter with a “chikna” she met at the bazaar the other day. The young rake gallantly asks her if he can accompany her home, and Shakku, her heart aflutter but taking a moment to decide, replies, yes. But can Romeo wander all the way into her bedroom? No.

 A grab from The Amorous Adventures of Megha and Shakku in the Valley of Consent featuring the ‘chikna’, played by comedian Gaurav Gera, and lavni artiste Shakuntala Nagarkar aka Shakku
A grab from The Amorous Adventures of Megha and Shakku in the Valley of Consent featuring the ‘chikna’, played by comedian Gaurav Gera, and lavni artiste Shakuntala Nagarkar aka Shakku

The chikna is furious and frustrated; WTF, is his eloquent reaction.

The Amorous Adventures of Megha and Shakku in the Valley of Consent is the latest offering from Agents of Ishq, a multi-media project by Parodevi Pictures about sex, love and desire — essentially all the things that make us go hmmm. Paromita Vohra, project founder and sunday mid-day columnist, describes the film as ‘Consent Lavni’. In eight minutes, artistes Shakuntala Nagarkar and Megha Ghadge take you through hilarious accounts, along with comedian Gaurav Gera, who plays multiple avatars as wooer. Do Megha and Shakku find the man who gets the point of, ‘maybe’?

In the film, artiste Megha Ghadge portrays how recognising consent is an art of subtlety
In the film, artiste Megha Ghadge portrays how recognising consent is an art of subtlety

In the last one year, the subject of consent has been discussed through pop culture formats. Everyday Feminism devised a comic chart with consent operating in everyday activities like watching TV or making breakfast; Emmeline May’s blogpost used a cup of tea as a metaphor to understand consent (this became the script for an animation film). By using a traditional folk storytelling form, Consent Lavni makes a deft statement — tradition and woman’s agency need not be mutually exclusive. “We wanted to steer clear of the polarity between modernity and tradition, and look for a multi-layered approach to talking about sex. If you have ever seen lavni dancers, it is what women with sexual agency look like,” says Vohra.

More importantly, the film, a collaboration between Agents of Ishq and lavni group Sangeet Bari, makes a nuanced observation about romance and sex. Shakku tells Megha, “Do you think consent is like hard cash? You can’t hold it in your hand and see it. You have to sense it.” The nature of desire, Vohra explains, is that it is rarely linear; there is a lot of back and forth with seduction and interest. “Honestly, I think consent in romance is a very different cup of tea from household chores,” says Vohra.

And if love is a game that people play, the law cannot always step in. Amita Dhanda, professor of law at NALSAR, shared the video on social media, adding, “the Penal Code is not the best instrument to change human behaviour”.

In this respect, consent takes a twist when Megha acts coy with her movie-date. The date mistakes her shyness for hesitation, and pulls away immediately. Megha gets friendzoned. “Yes-es and no-es, may not be uttered in absolute terms and yet sometimes they are just that. ‘Maybe’ is a symbol that is about gradually coming to an understanding,” says Vohra.

The suggestive, comical yet sensuous script is the work of Sangeet Bari’s writer Bhushan Korgaonkar who used the tune of a popular lavni number titled, Mala mhanyat Punyachi maina (They call me the mynah from Pune), to which he set these new lyrics. Korgaonkar states that lavni has had a tradition of embracing a variety of topics, right from menstruation to fidelity.

The film’s retro treatment is aimed at evoking older Hindi movies. “In movies today, a heroine wearing a short skirt is supposed to signal modernity (and it is, in a limited way). But movies from the 1920s — 50s gave space to the female emotion, which is missing in the laddish perspectives of today’s mainstream cinema,” says Vohra.

But can consent only be a woman’s prerogative? What about men? Vohra has the answer. “There are those who make the first move, and there are others who like the move be made on them. All you’ve got to do is abandon gendered thinking and read your partner better.”

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