Bollywood is known for its dramatic musical vocals but no kissing scenes, at least for the most part.
Salman Khan, Bollywood’s Tom Cruise with a net worth of $ 300 million, caught Bollywood’s attention when he revealed why he’d rather keep him PG-13 onscreen while promoting his latest “Antim” or “The Final Truth” release in English.
The Bollywood vet said in a video last month, “If you see the characters I’ve played, there has never been any foul language, exposure of love scenes or kissing scenes. I don’t do any of that. This is how I think cinema should be. But today the trend is different. … I can’t even watch this content, ”he said. “My mother, my father, my elders, my family, the children, they see my films. So I like to keep them very clean, ”according to Bollywood Hungama.
But much to Khan’s dismay, the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar and others are changing the rules of censorship.
Indian cinema has evolved over the past century in the way it attracts its audiences. With all the different cultures, languages, and religions, the onscreen kiss has remained a subject of controversy and debate in one form or another.
Art and culture always go hand in hand, and the clues to understanding the censorship laws that govern this $ 2.5 billion industry lie in the culture it grew from.
The origins of Bollywood
Most people often think of Bollywood as a Hollywood knockoff. Although the term “Bollywood” began to circulate in the 1970s, it became its own industry at the turn of the century.
“The first Hollywood film was shot in 1910. The first Bollywood film was shot in 1913. So the cinema arrived in India about the same time as it arrived in the rest of the western world,” he said. said Swapnil Rai, assistant professor in the department. of film, television and media at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Although Bollywood movies are often referred to as musicals, they are not Hollywood style musicals. The roots of song and dance as part of storytelling come from Sanskrit dramaturgy in the mythological genre, Rai explained.
Hollywood is known for its three-act structure, she says, but Bollywood films have an intermission, just before a minor climax, adding that some researchers even call it “the cinema of interruptions.” The two-part structure can be seen in all 90s movies like “Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge”, “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” and “Dil Toh Pagal Hai”.
Censorship has also been another source of disruption in Bollywood. The rules were different when India was ruled by British laws, which were not strict.
Kissing on screen sparked controversy again. “Zarina,” produced by Ezra Mir in 1932, featured 86 kisses and was later taken off the circuits, according to Times of India, a national daily. The 1993 film “Karma”, starring Devika Rani, who was supposed to have the longest kiss on screen, also sparked controversy in India and was largely overlooked, as “Zarina”.
But after independence, in 1947, “censorship became different and more draconian,” Rai said.
“Nehru and Gandhi did not see films as a very positive influence on society. For this reason, Bollywood has been largely ignored as an industry, ”said Rai.
There was no legal prohibition, but kissing rarely appeared on the big screen. Creative ways, instead, suggested the intimate moments, such as two flowers touching each other, the camera simply moved away as the couple got closer or a sequence of songs and dances played out.
“So the birds and the bees kind of symbolically and metaphorically represented these two characters and the intimacy between them,” and the rest was up to the audience to make that connection, Rai explained.
But Sangita Gopal, associate professor of English at the University of Oregon, doesn’t think this should be seen as a cultural ban around displays of intimacy but, on the contrary, is the means by which “the well-crafted, intensely lyrical and romantic ‘song sequence’ exists in Bollywood.
“Even though the song sequences do not show kisses, there is a traditional cut where when they would have kissed a flower, or two birds or butterflies are shown … and the intensity of the romance is projected to through the sequence of songs. “
Landscapes like open fields with a great blue sky, or clothes that fly off in the wind, or associated with a love song have done the trick. The dialogues and lyrics of the music created the perfect declaration of love.
“Especially in the case of the kind of song sequence that we call romantic duets. We don’t see them much now,” she added.
These songs have become a much bigger part of the culture – “In my generation you had courtship rituals doing mixtapes of these famous romantic duets, didn’t you? My parents got married in the 60’s and they would always say, “Oh, we quoted each other using songs from Hindi movies. “Or they expressed emotional states through songs,” Gopal said. “That’s how people use popular music anyway, right?” ”
Meanwhile, India did not have a popular music industry and these movie songs played a huge role in filling this gap, giving people a “romantic vocabulary,” Gopal said. And this music fits perfectly into the conservative culture of India.
The next time the kiss appeared it was in the Hindi movie “Love Sublime” or “Satyam Shivam Sundaram” in 1978, according to New York Times archives. It marked the start of a realistic and logical portrayal of love, but the country was outraged.
The chief minister of the southern state of Tamil Nadu said it was an insult, threatening a mass protest if the film was shown. “This government will launch a campaign to remove kissing from films,” he said, according to the report.
The movie “Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak”, a 1988 adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet”, also had a passionate kiss. “There were also a number of songs,” Gopal said, pointing out that old Bollywood rules still dominated the industry.
Culture and censorship
Bollywood reflects the need of Indian culture to approach intimacy in private rather than in public. And as a form of adaptation, cinema has evolved to present love and romance in this way, according to Times of India.
Many Bollywood celebrities like Salman Khan, Ajay Devgn and Sunny Deol always stay away from the kissing scenes.
When Bollywood idol Shah Rukh Khan first kissed an onscreen co-star in “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” in 2012, it had a real impact in the industry.
“This kiss was an incredibly important moment,” said Sanjay Srivastava, professor of sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth at the University of Delhi, according to the New York Times. “Shah Rukh Khan defines what is mainstream. If he does, it becomes acceptable.
Young actors are not so shy and accept it as part of their job. Alia Bhatt, known as the sweetheart of India, calls it a simple, romantic gesture that feels mechanical to an actor.
Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime used to get away with not being censored, but now the government is pushing for regulation. From now on, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which regulates newspapers, television, cinema and theater, will also have jurisdiction over digital information and entertainment platforms.
In India, there was a gulf between what popular cinema, which is Bollywood, represented, and what state sponsored cinema represented. A censorship board approved what was appropriate for showing to a theatrical audience.
“Lipstick Under My Burkha,” a 2016 comedy, received heavy censorship, delaying its release for two years because it was “female-oriented” according to the censorship board, Rai said.
She argued that the portrayal of sexuality is a gendered power dynamic – when woman is objectified and is the object of male desire, she is accepted by the censorship board, but when women speak out without being the object of male desire. object of male desire, this becomes problematic.
“Since independence, the unit depicted in films is often the family unit,” she said. “And that’s sort of a problematic dynamic because it is projected through the bodies of women, the honor of women in the space of the film.”
“So the point is that films reflect national cultural concerns and concerns in this way, like, even more so in the case of Bollywood. ”
Most of the sexually charged female characters were portrayed as vampires at the time, associating their lack of morality with sexuality. “We love the heroine because she’s so inexperienced sexually, and because she’s so innocent the way you know she doesn’t understand love and that’s part of a cultural thing too,” Rai said.
Korean dramas also use the “innocent woman” trope – which helps “build sexual tension but in a very innocent way,” Rai said.
Often saturated with romance, Korean dramas and films avoid showing intimacy for cultural reasons.
In terms of structure, delaying the kiss or stretching the budding romance keeps viewers excited. Many American shows like “Castle” or “Melissa and Joey” use the same strategy to hook viewers.
What Gopal pointed out is that the novel genre feeds on the ban unlike the romantic comedy genre, where incompatibility between two people can just do the trick. “Romeo and Juliet”, one of the most famous films of the genre, is a prime example.
In the context of India, there is a huge Hindu-Muslim divide that often spills over into film scripts. The Netflix TV series ‘A Suitable Boy’, in 2020, faced a backlash when the Hindu girl and Muslim boy kissed in front of an onscreen Hindu temple.
Right now, when socially prohibited or unusual relationships are shown on screen, Gopal said, they can still generate controversy, but the kissing ban appears to have been lifted.