Onir’s Bas Ek Pal isn’t a bad experience if you haven’t watched the movie it is copied from. When you do, you realize exactly what Bas Ek Pal is missing: the X-rated factor.
Pedro Almodóvar’s Spanish movie Carne Trémula (Live Flesh) explores carnality in some detail. Its centrepiece is a lengthy lovemaking scene between Elena, a woman married to a cripple, and Victor, a man who has been stalking her. As Elena savours the pleasure that has been denied to her throughout her marriage, the line between coercion and consent blurs. Victor has blackmailed Elena into sleeping with him. That she gets fulfilment out of surrender is understandable when you remember that Almodóvar is an expert at exposing the depths of human desire. Cut to mera Bharat mahaan (my India is great): Unable to flout the “No Sex in the Movies Please, we’re Indians” rule, Bas Ek Pal transmutes into a melodrama about suffering spouses. This has been the case with so many Hindi films that the only surprising thing about Bas Ek Pal is that its director actually thought he could Indianize Almodóvar.
Love Aaj Kal: Is that affection or chemistry in Imtiaz Ali’s next film?
Local film-makers are going places to explore new ideas (Australia for the romance Salaam Namaste; New York for the terrorism-themed New York and My Name is Khan; South Africa for gambling caper Race and Namibia for Luck), but they haven’t been able to cross the threshold of the bedroom back home. For all its posturing, the new Bollywood isn’t particularly any different from its older self. A film industry oriented towards family viewing and subjected to tough censorship laws isn’t geared to produce sexually explicit cinema. What’s strange is that the current crop in Bollywood, be it the mainstream folks or the Hindie lot, aren’t trying even indirectly to address a vital consequence of falling in love.
Many of the so-called romances made in the last few years either ignore the tug of sexual desire or face it with awkwardness. Some among those who listen to their libido pay the price. Preity Zinta’s Ambar moves in with Saif Ali Khan’s Nick and gets knocked up in Salaam Namaste. Sex is comedy in Salaam-e-Ishq: A Tribute to Love—remember the many tiresome attempts by Sohail Khan’s Ramdayal to consummate his wedding with Isha Koppikar’s Phoolwati? Sex is misery in Life… in A Metro, Anurag Basu’s ensemble piece about urban relationships. Abbas Tyrewala’s Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na is about college students who are as removed from naughty thoughts as Arun Shourie is from rational views.
Anurag Kashyap’s Dev. D is quite grown-up in admitting that his two heroines have desires too, but the man they both want is an alcoholic and a drug abuser. Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi is so squeaky clean that one is inclined to believe that we are products of divine rather than human intervention. You need to travel back a few hundred years to find a conventional, yet adult, approach to matters of the heart. Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar is a failed historical, but it is also a tantalizing display of foreplay between two gorgeous people.
Coming up on 31 July is a movie that claims to be a treatise on love. Various journalists have bestowed upon Love Aaj Kal director Imtiaz Ali the title “love guru”, following the stupendous success of his Jab We Met last year. Jab We Met took the time-tested route that friendship is the best route to romance, thereby overcoming any discomfort caused by the prolonged time its leads spent alone in each other’s company. A clinch between Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapur is Ali’s sole acknowledgement that his characters may feel more than just affection for each other.
We may be too reserved for full-blown moaning between the sheets, but surely our audiences are grown-up enough to accept some honesty about what adults like to do to each other once they’ve finished drinks, dinner and dessert? One of the sweetest nods to sex was in Sooni Taraporevala’s English-language Little Zizou, in the scene in which Boman Irani’s journalist prepares to hit the sack with his missus by swallowing a Viagra pill. Similarly uplifting candour will surely make our Bollywood romances less predictable and more relevant; less about chaste love and more about the chasing.
Love Aaj Kal releases on 31 July.
Nandini Ramnath is film editor, Time Out Mumbai (www.timeoutmumbai.net).
Write to Nandini at firstname.lastname@example.org