Sexuality in India was treated with a culture of silence. The rules for women were more rigid. Virginity was linked to purity and ultimately to the family’s social stance. In the earlier movies, emotions heightened with a romantic song and raging desires climaxed with flowers or birds or a bonfire. Sex in Cinema, a book documenting female sexuality in Indian cinema by Fareed Kazmi, begins with the quote 'Isak ki baat to besua jaane/ hum bahu beti hain, hum ka jaanein’ (The art of making love is known only to the prostitute/ we women of the household, what do we know of it.)
The woman in Bollywood may be the ideal wife, the ideal mother, the vamp or the courtesan. The wife represents sexual purity, the mother invokes religious suggestion, the vamp does the objectionable and the courtesan fulfills physical needs. In the 60s and 70s, sexuality was restricted to lyrics and Urdu poetry. Anarkali portrayed by Madhubala was the symbol of sexuality, in spite of essaying the role of a courtesan. Late 70s and 80s delved into forbidden relationships and the concept of ‘the other woman’ emerged. Raw sex appeal was restricted to art films. One cannot forget the charms of Smita Patil in Bhumika or the crude lust seen in Ankur or Ijaazat. With globalization and entry of satellite TV in the 90s, the Indian audience was exposed to a different culture, the culture of Westeners. The 90s was replete with rape scenes and villains. Fast forward to today, an actor is tagged a ‘serial kisser’. Soon unwed mothers, extra marital affairs, live-ins, on screen lip locks, bedroom capers were no longer unacceptable. Steaminess became a claim to fame amongst audiences. They did not have to wait for the captivating tribal dress or a wet saree. Instead of subtly wiping away smudged kajal or lipstick or arranging tousled locks, today’s heroine stares upfront into the camera with her oomph factor and moans. The very thin line between aesthetic portrayal and vulgarity is often the question raised.
Movies like Jism (2003), Aitraaz (2004), Ishqiya (2010), The Dirty Picture (2011), all showed how women not only understood their gender and sexuality but also used it to get favors. So lines like “Mujhe jo chahiye, uska mazaa sirf raat ko hi aata hai” and “Jawani taste karne ke liye hoti hai, waste karne ke liye nahin”, which would once have been assigned to a perverted male mind, are now assigned to the female protagonist. The latest addition to the clan is Jism 2, directed by Pooja Bhatt.
Jism 2 is being touted as the real life story of Sunny Leone, who also plays the lead in the movie. The plot involves the hiring of a porn star as a bait to trap an assassin and her inter personal conflicts as the plan progresses. In a recent interview, Mahesh Bhatt quipped, that sexuality in Jism 2 has the kind of anguish that comes from fierce loneliness; from the inner turbulence that is part of the human soul. All these emotions seek escape through sexual contact in the movie; sex becomes an outlet for these deep emotions. It is not the run of the mill sexuality where the hero and heroine have a one off sex scene on the bed, consummate and that’s the end of the story. No, this is not so trivial and it is actually much more than that; it deals with sexuality at a deeper level.
Jism 2 has had its own share of obstacles already. The film had to face the Censor’s wrath with nearly 45 percent of its scenes being chopped off. Director Pooja Bhatt however managed to make the necessary corrections and acquire an ‘A’ certification. Soon thereafter a PIL was filed against actress Sunny Leone demanding a stay in the release of the film. With the hearing due on 8th of August, the fate of the movie remains uncertain.
The depiction of sexuality in Bollywood maybe masked, packaged differently and restricted, thanks to the Censors but it is in some ways far more erotic than the sexuality in western films. It is true that skin show acts as a catalyst to the success of a movie today. Sexual use and abuse is glorified. Physicality has become a legal way to express romantic love. Yes, we are talking about the same country where kissing on film was banned from 1947 to 1980. However, Bollywood is sexually evolving in thought and representation. The Indian consumer is no longer a juvenile who cannot deal with sex.