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Why the Indian small screen is nowhere close to being open about sex

Nothing sells like sex, but not on Indian TV shows, where the camera shies away from the actual scene to a gushing waterfall, birds taking flight or even at a ticking clock in the room

A drenched Mahek Chahal recently shot a sensuous sequence wearing a flimsy white saree for the television show, 'Darr Sabko Lagta Hai'. The makers tried to recreate the magic and the furore of Mandakini in the 1985 film 'Ram Teri Ganga Maili'. While the show’s makers claimed to showcase a similar sequence, it was a far cry from what Mandakani had done. (Click here to read: Mahek Chahal does a Mandakini!)

Vishal Aditya Singh (Lakhan) and Shivangi Joshi (Poonam) in BegusaraiVishal Aditya Singh (Lakhan) and Shivangi Joshi (Poonam) in 'Begusarai'

Ever since Ram Kapoor and Sakshi Tanwar showcased a cringe-inducing sex scene in their show, 'Bade Achhe Lagte Hain' (2014), television producers have been keen to follow suit to garner higher TRPs. However, far from any explicit lovemaking scene, the closest they’ve come to showcasing a consummation sequence is by panning the camera to a ticking clock, birds taking flight or sometimes depicting a gushing waterfall and candle-lit rooms. (Click here to read: The bold get bolder on Indian telly)

Namish Taneja (Lakshya) and Helly Shah (Swara) in Swaragini
Namish Taneja (Lakshya) and Helly Shah (Swara) in 'Swaragini'

The small screen is definitely not anywhere close to being open about nudity or sex.

Dropping the towel
Telly actor Arjun Bijlani has been shooting romantic sequences with Mouni Roy in 'Naagin'. He says while enacting scenes like these, he takes the cue from the actresses. "I have been shown in a towel. There’s really not much left after that. As for sex sequences, that’s something we cannot show as TV shows are watched by all age groups." He adds, "Such scenes are always enacted keeping the actresses’ comfort in mind, which is fair. The day TV starts showing lovemaking scenes, I’m sure we will have a political debate on it."

Karan Kundra (Rahul) and Saanvi Talwar (Manvi) in Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum
Karan Kundra (Rahul) and Saanvi Talwar (Manvi) in 'Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum'

Conditions apply
Incidentally, a few months ago 'Yeh Hai Mohabbatein' had finally shot the consummation scene between Ishita (Divyanka Tripathi) and Raman (Karan Patel). The actress had laid down several conditions before the scene was shot. Divyanka didn’t want too many people on the set. She also requested the director to shoot it aesthetically and wanted the sequence to be done in a single take. In addition, the telly actress apparently had her assistant consistently monitor the shoot to see nothing was done distastefully. Finally, when the scene went on air, it turned out to be a huge disappointment as there was no intimacy at all. There were just some forced expressions that were passed off as lovemaking. (Click here to read: Divyanka Tripathi, Karan Patel to get intimate on their show)

Mandakani in Ram Teri Ganga Maili (1985)
Mandakani in 'Ram Teri Ganga Maili' (1985)

Too coy
Shivangi Joshi, who plays the lead in 'Begusarai', apparently refused to be part of a lovemaking scene, forcing the makers to find an alternative solution. She says, "My co-star, Vishal Aditya Singh, and the director made me comfortable in the scene. We shot the scene through a shadow sequence, we didn’t really kiss." While shadow kissing was used in this show, several other television serials resort to blurring the visuals during an intimate sequence. In 'Ek Tha Raja Ek Thi Rani', they would often resort to showing flowers or at times the couple is shown behind a curtain.

Mahek Chahal in  Darr Sabko Lagta Hai
Mahek Chahal in 'Darr Sabko Lagta Hai'

Kiss and tell
Telly actor and model Siddhant Karnick says, "I have done tons of kissing scenes for my previous show, 'Mahi Way'. We were told that we had to shoot it like a film and there would be no masking of any kind. But, when the show went on air, the scenes were blurred. It was disheartening because we gave it our all. Then again, we have to respect Indian sensibilities. Somehow all this is allowed in films, but when it comes to television, we have a closed mind." So, all the smooching and being physically intimate that Siddhant shot for outside Qutub Minar in New Delhi, at a resort in Jaipur and near the Neemrana Fort in Alwar in Rajasthan, were either edited or blurred out. In Siddhant’s on-going show, 'Ek Tha Raja Ek Thi Rani', a romantic scene that you see for a minute and a half apparently takes over three hours to shoot.

Ravi Dubey (Sidharth) and Nia Sharma (Roshni) in Jamai Raja
Ravi Dubey (Sidharth) and Nia Sharma (Roshni) in 'Jamai Raja'

Explains Siddhant, "For five to 10 minutes, all you are doing is staring into your co-star’s eyes without blinking, which can get quite weird. While you are staring into your co-actor’s eyes, set hands are staring at you. The camera is on a trolley zooming around, with a high-speed fan blowing your hair and some dry leaves are sprinkled around for added effect, some of which hit you on your face. Among all this you have to appear romantic, but there’s really no romance there. It’s mechanical and we just play along. The funny part is if one of us is not available on that day, we shoot with a body double, and mind you, our expressions cannot change while the other person doesn’t even care what we are doing."

Arjun Bijlani (Ritik) and Mouni Roy (Shivanya) in Naagin
Arjun Bijlani (Ritik) and Mouni Roy (Shivanya) in 'Naagin'

Close comfort
Ravi Dubey, who features in the show, 'Jamai Raja', claims that while most shows blur out the visuals, some concentrate on the clock or show scenes which have no connection to the romantic sequence. He says, "In Jamai Raja, the masking was never amusing. The moment the couple gets closer, they would go into out focus or a blur. But in some shows when the couple comes close, the camera would suddenly pan up and focus on the clock, or on a vase or on the blanket or some random object in the room. I can’t figure out the symbolisms of panning to a clock. Even when my co-star, Nia Sharma, and I were not talking and we were required to shoot an intimate scene, we were professional about it. There were no hang-ups. Of course, some times the scenes are choreographed and hence rehearsals are required. Luckily, Nia and I have never needed it."

On the go
Namish Taneja of 'Swaragini' fame, points out, "We shoot romantic scenes, but there is never a requirement to go beyond the obvious. So we don’t improvise on it either. We kiss on the forehead or cheeks, but a liplock is not shown. All these scenes happen in a single shot because we are always in a rush to meet deadlines. There are no rehearsals or any preparation involved. In fact, we shoot a song sequence that goes on for 45 minutes. We cheat so much in front of the camera and during close-up shots, we don’t even touch the co-star."

Close comfort
However, some TV shows have been showing kissing on screen, like 'Yeh Kahan Aa Gaye Hum'. The show’s actress Saanvi Talwar says, "Yes, it is a little awkward, but directors know how to get it done; sometimes without even touching. We have kissing sequence and physical proximity shots. We didn’t do any rehearsals for it, it was to be initiated by Karan (Kundra) and he did it."

No show
Ravish Desai, who has enacted several romantic scenes, just poses his back to the camera and it works fine for him. He says, "A lot of bold things cannot be shown on television. We face our back to the camera or cover the face with the pillow while doing a scene on the bed. There are times when you read the script and find it amusing when it mentions body to body touch, or going over the girl or the palm to palm touch. There are times when it becomes awkward when you come real close, but they cut it right there." So, will things change or not in the near future? Your guess is as good as ours.

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