That three-letter word!
Sex comes of age in Hindi cinema
Subhash K Jha
The Indian box-office continues to be as unpredictable as ever. But a clear pattern has begun to emerge: a sexual revolution has willynilly crept into our cinema. Films about the young are no longer shy of addressing matters physical.
Urban audiences are also definitely queuing up for 'young' films.
In Shashilal Nair's controversial Ek Chhotisi Love Story Manisha Koirala makes a 14-year old boy put his hands on her thighs. After a while, she sneers, "Go and clean yourself in the bathroom."
After veteran director N Chandra's Style clicked at the beginning of 2002 lots of filmmakers have opted for the ostensible 'magic formula' of fresh faces and excited libidos with varying degrees of success.
In Hansal Mehta's recent Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai there is a nudge-nudge-wink-wink reference to a character slinking off to the bathroom while watching a blue film. Says the director, "The young crowds bring the older generation with them. A young film benefits from every angle." Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai is about four young men trying to lose their virginity. The film opened in the cities better than expected.
Mehta beams, "When I invited my friend Fardeen Khan to see the film, he joked, 'Let me go and buy some lose underwear first.' He too had heard about my 'sex' film. My producer Harry Baweja and I wanted the film to make a small profit. We now believe Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai will really romp home. The collections have been getting better by the day. In spite of the traditionally lean pre-Dussehra period, the film has found an audience. In today's milieu, that is not easy to do."
According to Mehta, the solution to attracting the audience lies in crowding the canvas with fresh faces rather than depending on the handful of supposedly reliable names to draw in the crowds.
Says Mehta, "I signed eight newcomers for Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai for two reasons: they were economically viable and also because a film about youngsters looking for sex would not work with Akshay Kumar and other known faces." Mehta feels critics in Mumbai have reacted strongly against Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai. "But they fail to see that the so-called airheaded Generation X is a very strong and influential part of the moviegoing audience today. We cannot afford to be prudish and ignore sex in Hindi movies while satellite television continues to pour incessant eroticism into the audiences' psyche right at home. Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai reflects the desires and fantasies of today's audience."
Another young film with strong sexual undercurrents that clicked this year was N Chandra's Style. The film was packaged as hip, trendy, colourful and youth-oriented. Chandra, whose big-star films had all collapsed in recent years, went home richer by a few millions. He immediately launched not one, but two, sequels to Style.
Mehta objects to his film being compared with Chandra's Style. "With due respect, there is a fundamental difference in the athestics and the intention. No matter how successful Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai proves I do not intend to make a sequel or another young film, for that matter."
Now, there are quite a few filmmakers rushing forward to cash in on the trend. Rahul Bose plays a young Bengali man trying to lose his his virginity in Big City Blues. "Though I don't take off my clothes in the film, I do strip down to my boxer shorts," Bose smiles mischievously.
Kalpana Lajmi, who made cerebral films like Rudaali and Darmiyaan found her creativity emasculated after her Raveena Tandon-helmed 'serious' film Daman was trashed by audiences and critics. She is now making a 'young' film, Kyon, with 20-something starlets dressed in pneumonic attire. She says the film is based on true-life crime. But the cleavage quotient tells another story.
There are at least four films, including playwright Mahesh Dattani's Mango Souffle, being made on the theme of homosexuality. 'Young and erotically-charged' seems to be the mantra for success in the new millennium. Since most mainstream stars refuse to be part of the so-called sexual revolution, these films end up being made with young new faces.
Farhan Akhtar who started the neo-youthful movement in cinema last year with his coming-of-age flick Dil Chahta Hai, had three 30-something heroes playing characters ten years younger than their age.
Directors neeed not resort to geneaological subterfuge (eg Aamir Khan's closely cropped hair and miniature moustache under his lower lip in Dil Chahta Hai) to make a youthful statement. But Hansal Mehta fears there is a risk of overkill: "Any directors desperate for success would sign a clutch of hopefuls and make them do 'young' things which may not be too becoming."
When Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas clicked, the film trade thought audiences wanted period grandeur. But Raaz and Ek Chhotisi Love Story proved more profitable because of their meagre budgets. Both had heavy doses of petting, necking and bare flesh.
Then came the gargantuan Shakti: The Power, directed by Krishna Vamsi, which cloaked its guttural sex and violence in gloss and glamour. But audiences rejected it.
Which proves one thing: right now, the film trade is mighty confused.