Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rachel Dwyer on the Bollywood Kiss: Quotes

Kiss or Tell? Declaring Love in Hindi Films
Rachel Dwyer.

From Francesca Orsini, Ed. Love in South Asia: A Cultural History. Cambridge University Press, 2006, 289-302.

Form of the Hindi film:
The form of the Hindi film, it has often been remarked, is a loose assemblage of parts. This is largely a result of its particular mode of production, as the various elements of the film are made by specialized personnel, such as dance directors, music directors, stunt directors and so on. As a consequence, the cinematic codes may vary from one section of a film to another, notably between the narrative and the song and dance sequences, with several important effects on the film. Ravi Vasudevan has argued that in Indian cinema the ‘relationship between narrative, performance sequence and action spectacle is loosely structured in the fashion of a cinema of attractions.’ [quoting Vasudevan: ‘The Politics of Cultural Address in a ‘Transitional’ cinema: a Case Study of Popular Indian Cinema,’ in C. Gledhill and L. Willliams, Eds. Reinventing Film Studies. (London: Arnold, 2000), p. 131. Vasudevan is quoting Tom Gunnning, ‘The Cinema of Attraction (1986)] (p. 289-290 in the Orsini volume)

Continuity and linearity:

In other words, this is an exhibitionist cinema in which linear narrative, driven by characters and the logic of the narrative itself, and the realist illusion of film are interrupted by spectacle and other ‘attractions’. The song and dance sequences form one of the major attractions in the Hindi film.
Erotic in Hindi cinema (continued directly from the passage above):
[A]s Asha Kasbekar has argued, they function mostly as erotic digressions from the main plot in the film, to allow ‘areas of heightened transgressive pleasure.’ [cited in Kasbekar, ‘Hidden pleasures: Negotiating the Myth of the Female Ideal in Popular Hindi Cinema.’ In R. Dwyer and C. Pinney, Eds. Pleasure and the Nations: the History, Consumption and Politics of Public Culture in India. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 286-308.] They provide voyeuristic pleasure although they often disavow their own voyeurism through various mechanisms such as refracting the audience’s glance through an on-screen viewer. My focus here, however, is on love and romance, and I will concentrate on the intimate and the romantic leaving aside these other concerns of sexuality and eroticism. (290)


As mentioned above, the erotic in Hindi films is largely contained in its song and dance sequences. Although the erotic content of films lies beyond the scope of this paper, it concerns us in that it is one of the main arenas of censorship of cinema in India. Hindi cinema has evolved its own code of showing the erotic and, to some extent, the intimate, though self-censorship or fear of cuts that might be imposed by the censor boards. These include the famous ‘wet sari sequences’ where the heroine, and increasingly the hero, are soaked by water, usually rain, and sing songs of love, longing and desire. (291)

On kissing. Refers to the absence of kissing in Yash Chopra films (294). Note that Dwyer is also author of a book on Yash Chopra.

On kissing in general:
It is often said that ‘Indians don’t kiss.’ This is of course, unverifiable. However, kissing is certainly described in the elaborate taxonomy of the Kama Sutra, which has a whole range of possible varieties of kisses and bites. The most that can be said is that kissing is something that Indians do not and should not do in public. I vaguely remember some minor scandal in India when the actress Padmini Kohlapure kissed the Prince of Wales, and another when same sex kissing was shown on the cover of Stardust magazine. This absence of public kissing may be seen as upholding national culture in the face of Westernisation and as such it became an unwritten rule of self-censorship in Hindi cinema. This is the usual argument explaining the absence of kissing in the cinema and may be located with other publicly expressed fears of the Westernisation of Indian intimacy as seen lately in the demonstrations held against Valentine’s Day in Bombay. The paradox of the absence of the kiss and the presence of the erotic can be explained by the frequent containment of the erotic within the song in the film. (294-295)

There is eroticism, but no kissing:
Given that the narrative sections of Hindi films use the classic conventions of Hollywood, one may expect the absence of the kiss to leave a gap. In Hindi films, the couple rush together and hug but do not kiss. This looks, comical, as in a moment of passion the hero and heroine hug in a most unerotic manner. In other instances, the light goes out or the camera pans or the lovers’ reflection in a pool is disturbed as they approach one another. Yet there is no prohibition on the erotic: in song sequences we see lips meeting, or almost meeting, and many parts of the body other than the lips. The only absence is a kiss on the lips.
One major reason offered within the Hindi film industry is that many of the top actors refuse to act in kissing scenes. Shah Rukh Khan, Madhuri Dixit and others simply refuse to kiss, so their directors and producers have to agree. […]
All along I have assumed that the audience wants to see kissing, but Prasad reminds us that, actually, the men in the audience do not want to see it, as it would undermine their patriarchal control. The reason for this could be that given kissing is not a public activity in India and the film audience is often a family one, the audience would be uncomfortable with such scenes in front of their parents and their children. (297-298)

The kiss is back:

Yash Chopra depicts a long kiss in Mohabbatein (2000), when earlier he would not have a kiss even between an adulterous couple depicted seemingly naked in a bedroom sequence (Silsila, 1981). One reason for this return of the kiss may be that the big budget glossy romance, which has dominated the box office in the last decade, is aimed at a younger audience of college students, who view films with their friends rather than their parents and who have more liberal attitudes to displays of physical intimacy. (299-300)

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