The multiplex-cinema culture is exposing Indian audiences to everything from casual sex to oral sex to telephone sex to gay rape to nudity to incest to MMS porn clips to massages with happy endings. On screen display of vile sex is fast becoming a sign of cinematic maturity, it seems. If anyone criticizes, simply brand them as prudes or worse -- middle class!
Illustration/ Devdutt Pattanaik
We have come a long way. Once upon a time, when the hero and heroine made out on film, two flowers kissed and everyone understood something naughty was going on. If this was accompanied by thunder or lightening, then the woman became pregnant. The only graphic sex we really got to see was rape scenes, with buxom women being strategically chased and stripped of clothing by a hideous looking villain.
Nowadays onscreen rape is on the wane. There is no resistance. Sex is not a bad thing. Skimpiest of clothes are worn not by the vamp but by the heroine herself; and the hero and the villain look very similar with shaven chest and unshaven face. We don't want flowers anymore, or thunder and lightening. Heroines are eager to be seen as item numbers. Women are increasingly shown vocal about their sexual needs. They ride into fields with mattresses demanding pleasure. They defy rape by simply going limp on bed, refusing to fuel passion by resistance.
It seems we are willy-nilly are returning to the old erotic traditions of India before we were restrained by monastic traditions of yore, and the regimental values of the Victorian, Gandhian and Nehruvian eras. While we would like to be romantic about our past, and believe all ancient and medieval erotic expressions were sensitive and aesthetic, many things then were equally vile and undignified, satisfying bawdy and randy crowds, under the guise of being artistic.
Sanskrit literature was rich in double entendre. Classical heroines smeared themselves with sandal paste to cool the body burning with desire. Heroines of Kalidasa's dramas complained that their blouses were becoming tight. Here is a line, from the Sukasaptati, where a woman who wishes to cheat on her husband is given sage advise by a parrot: "The best of the lover's couches is higher on the sides and sunken at the center so as to bear the strong poundings of a couple's passion."
Medieval folktales threw caution to the wind. In folk ballads food was used as a metaphor for sex; the hero was shown as hungry and the heroine was always visualised carrying savory food. Heroines were depicted chewing sugarcane while heroes sucked on mangoes.
Perhaps most dramatic were the songs of courtesans, bold in content. In her Radhika Santhanam, the 18th century devadasi Muddapallani describes how Radha teaches Krishna the art of lovemaking. Her work was reviled by social reformers of the early 20th century, the publication of her book banned, marking the end of India's erotic tradition.
But now, Bollywood and Multiplexes have helped it resurface. We are being forced to acknowledge our sensual heritage beyond the touristy Khajuraho and Kamasutra, often in forms that are revolting, but revolutionary nevertheless.
The author is Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.