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Articles > Entertainment June, 07, 2013

Can India cope with kissing in films?

Anila Dhami
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This year celebrates one hundred years of Indian cinema, Raja Harishchandra was the first silent feature film made in India in 1913 by Dadasaheb Phalke. From the colourful outfits, dramatic love stories, iconic heroes, heroines and villains that have become household names and the musical feature of all Bollywood films, Indian cinema is now a global phenomenon. But with Hollywood just around the corner, and the constant need for modernisation, is Indian cinema and Bollywood losing the culture it represents or is it progressing?

Photo by theMaykazine

Indian cinema is a part of the Bollywood industry, but as Bollywood is the largest film producer in India it exerts not only a national but global influence upon Indian culture as well as other cultures. A recent debate has emerged where some argue that kissing scenes should be banned from Bollywood films, while some believe that they represent progression and are key to the modernisation of Indian cultural norms and values. I believe we should transgress boundaries and challenge norms and values if it will bring positive change to a culture or society. For example, Film Director Karan Johar introduced homosexuality in his film Dostana. By doing so, he touched on a topic that is regarded as taboo in the Indian culture and challenged cultural beliefs against homosexuality. Discrimination against homosexuality should be challenged and by eradicating the stigma we encourage the values of tolerance, understanding, and acceptance and eliminate discrimination.  What values are added to the Indian culture because of kissing scenes? What is being challenged? Has modernisation become a value in itself?

The most common comment about recent Bollywood films is that they are embarrassing to watch with family. With the influence of Hollywood, and recent films now including English dialogue merged with the Hindi and Indian languages, Bollywood films are not only creating a hybrid language but creating a hybrid culture. But is this at the expense of values that are intrinsic to the Indian culture? I am a British Asian and have lived in England my entire life. I watch Hollywood movies with family yet even I feel embarrassed by some of the scenes in recent Bollywood films. I believe that kissing scenes take away from our culture what is most respected; family-orientated values, where it is disrespectful to show public affection. Another value is respecting older generations, and generally being illicit or intimate in front of elders is regarded as shameful and disrespectful. Greater value is placed on dignity, self-control and a reserved nature.

In Indian culture, kissing is generally regarded as a subject that is taboo. I believe that this taboo should be challenged because children should be able to speak with their parents and families openly about this topic, but is Bollywood going about challenging this taboo the wrong way? Female actresses are wearing less clothing on screen and Indian cinema appears to be falling into, or has already fallen into, the trap of what it thinks is modernisation but is really the commodification and objectification of women – and the actresses are complying. Less importance is given to the quality of acting and greater emphasis is placed on women dancing in minimal clothing whilst being gawped at by men who are intoxicated. Actress Katrina Kaif could not even speak Hindi when she began working in the industry yet has become iconic for her dancing and item numbers such as ‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ in Tees Maar Khan.

These dance items do not liberate women but instead use them to sell the film.  I can accept illicit scenes but why would we want to change and modernise Indian culture when there is nothing wrong with not showing illicit or kissing scenes? Kissing and sex can remain a private activity because people will inevitably carry out these activities; they are not forbidden in the private realm. So Bollywood films are not challenging any norms or creating change as such. They are merely making a private activity public which I do not think is necessary – and which I believe is in fact more damaging to the community because it no longer allows families to watch Bollywood films together.

Indian cinema is suffering for the sake of what it mistakes as modernisation but is really the commodification of women. Kissing scenes are not adding any values to our culture or changing any beliefs because no matter how old you are, if you are Indian or not, some will find watching a kissing scene or an illicit scene with older generations to always be cringe-worthy!

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  1. bishnu

    all a grest success in future our bollywood.

  2. Nish

    Sorry I meant to say ‘I couldn’t agree more with our article.’

  3. Nish

    Dear Anila Dhami, I could agree more with your article and I believe it is spot on when you say that it objectifies women and adds no value to our culture. As you have mentioned, kissing or any deep intimate scenes are a private matter, as this maintains the sanctity of a bond between lovers. Making it public only dilutes the ways in which lovers can show their feelings for each other, as by going public it just makes it ‘well everyone does it’ and becomes taken for granted.
    One thing that irks me is when people say well that’s what the people want, however, I firstly do not understand why people want to see two people kissing and secondly Bollywood has a responsibility towards the culture and religion it represent and that has taken it to where it is.
    I am sorry if I come across as too strong, but I believe the Indian and Hindu culture are so rich and philosophically advanced that we should build on what we are rather then take it from others.

  4. Nav Dhami

    Anila, I usually refrain from commenting on Indian sub-contintenal cultural matters because of the undesirable flak that it can potentially attract. However, because one Dhami has waded into these murky waters, I will tentatively dip a toe in :).
    ‘Bollywood’ is a commercial beast; they come up with what are essentially consumer products. If poorly clad women begin to help sell more of the product without provoking violent public outrage from some quarters, the industry will be emboldened to include more of such scenes in their future ‘masala mix’. If a few inches too much of bare skin or lusty intimacy unleashes craptonite projectiles in the streets, they will accordingly modify the product just that little bit in subsequent feature films to keep consumption at satisfactory, profitable levels.
    A few months/years later, they will try again – because of the exigent demands of investors.
    I don’t believe cultural matters weigh too heavily on most Indian filmmakers’ minds anymore – not since the later 60s anyway. Any mention of or allusion to culture results from the logic of the commercial product development process.
    The overwhelming majority of these films are not artistic endeavours.

    • Anila Dhami

      Hi Nav, thank you for reading and for your response! I agree with your sentiments about the film industry. Thank you once again!

  5. Great work. I enjoyed reading this piece…The analysis that kissing as a taboo subject does need to be challenged, but not in the form of objectification of women, is spot on!

    I’m not sure I personally am wholly against kissing scenes in Bollywood because I feel that when done tastefully they could add value to the story being told, but the increasing levels of irrelevant scenes of a sexual nature, women dancing around in skimpy outfits just for the sake of having the sex factor in the name of modernisation I sure am against.

    Film makers are simply catering to the demands of the Indian population, doing what they need to do to sell the film. However, in doing so, perhaps they are just feeding the deep rooted problems prevalent across India, being the lower social status and disgusting attitudes towards women, rather than challenging norms and values as sometimes argued.

    Plenty of food for thought!

    • Anila Dhami

      Hi Kavan, thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my article! Indeed I think you are right in saying that kissing scenes could be done tastefully although whether the development of the storyline is more important than the cultural values at stake is questionable. I wholly agree with your sentiments. Thank you once again!