Every Indian usually has two common things in their lives: cricket and Bollywood. Bollywood played and continues to play an important part in each and every Indian life. Our moods, our occasions, are all incomplete without a touch of Bollywood. We worship Bollywood stars and often emulate their ways. Whenever a film releases on a certain friday we try our best to watch it on the first day itself especially if it has our favourite stars in it.
However, can anything really be ‘perfect’? No it cannot. Bollywood too is not. For years Bollywood films have shied away from showing sex scenes to its auidences, especially during the 1960s and 1970s. In India, sex education is not a part of school cirriculum. Children, especially those born during the early and late 90s had only one opportunity to learn anything about sex—Bollywood movies. However, the ideas that people developed and continue to develop are inherently wrong. Many of us often fail to realise what is wrong with the things that are shown in these films. On the other hand, many prefer to turn a blind eye to the problems that are present within Bollywood thinking that it does not affect them directly. However, whether we are aware about it or not, we all are affected by the things that are shown in these films.
Sex scenes were never properly shown in Bollywood films as the filmmakers knew that it is one of the most tabooed topics in our society. However, filmmakers also knew that sex scnes will sell. So they came up with a solution—not to show sex scenes explicitly but instead to show it through item numbers, or certain scenes such as a rape scene or the the suhagraat scene.” The overwhelming (mostly male) audiences were served films with poor production values and a penchant for providing gratuitous and perverse pleasure including rape scenes.” (Bollywood Gods, Glamour and Gossip)
The sex scenes that were shown were problematic to the core and as audiences we often failed to realise the problems with them.
Some of the Problems in the Depiction of Sexual Scenes in Bollywood Films
Lack of Proper Expression of Love: Children who were born during the early and the late 90s were familiar with one scene, two sunflowers coming in place of a hero and heroine’s faces…You wonder, what does it mean? Kissing scenes!!! Even a simple kiss which is associated as an expression of love was not shown in the movies. Then came the era of song and dance sequences in the late 1960s and 1970s where elaborate song and dance sequences between the hero and heroine were considered to be an expression of love.
As time progressed, love scenes in Bollywood began to become more and more problematic. Somehow sex scenes meant showing a woman’s skin more and more. The fact that love can be portrayed more realistically was missing. Women were shown wearing bikini blouses and their saris covered very little bit of their waist, thus doing nothing but selling the women’s body as a marketable product.
Over-emphasis on SuhagRaat scenes: Weddings are an integral part of Indian culture and Bollywood has never excluded this aspect on the celluloid. The one major scene that had almost become synonymous with Bollywood films was “the suhag raat scene.” These scenes were extremely popular and almost a staple in 1970s Bollywood movies. (The suhag raat is the night when the newly wedded couple is supposed to have conjugal relations for the first time.)
There are two stereotypes associated with “suhag raat” scenes in our films. The first being the husband is being pushed into the room by his friends, of course not before giving him advice about what to do or how to do it (sex). The popular euphemisms associated with it were “ Sher ho tum” (You are a lion) or “Humari nakh maat katana bhabi ke saamne” (Don’t lose your honour in front of your wife). These scenes were inherently problematic as the stereotypical notion is ingrained into our minds: the wife has no right to refuse sex to her husband. It also shows that the husband needs to conquer his wife’s body as if she is a fort!!! The woman is never seen refusing to give to the husband demands.
Another scene associated with “suhagraat” in films is the bride walking slowly into the room with a glass of milk, the groom walks in a little later sits beside the bride and then drinks the glass of milk and then suddenly the lights go off. That is how sexual intercourse scenes were portrayed. What was ironic about the suhag raat scene was that it was always shown that the women should be virgin or atleast assumed to be so. Thus, the concept of virginity was idolised.
Lack of Conversation around Contraception: Bollywood fails to show any conversation around contraception or the idea that ‘ safe sex’ should be practised. The husband and wife automatically begin kissing and the lights are turned off or the actors are shown lying beside each other without their clothes, with a thin bed sheet covering them. After engaging in sexual ercourse, one needs to wash themselves as it is a precautionary measure against UTIs and other infections but that too is never shown.
The morning-after the sexual act is usually emphasised upon. The conversation around contraception also is missing. Thus, it is assumed that contraception is secondary. Even now, many men refuse to use condoms thinking that it will ruin their experience of sex and somehwere down the line, our Bollywood films have been responsible for this.
How Bollywood has Impacted our ideas of our Body Image and Self Esteem?
Bollywood films have not only impacted our ideas of sexuality but also how one perceives one’s body. The actors engaging in intimate scenes have ‘perfect’ bodies. The female actor who has no body hair, is often seen wearing matching lingerie. This has led young girls trying to achieve unrealistic standards of beauty. Everyone’s body type is not the same. Not everyone has the same skin tone all over their body, people do have uneven skin tone and body hair.
This ideal image that has been continuously been portrayed in Bollywood movies has only benefited the Bollywood industry and the beauty industry. Most women have forgotten to embrace their bodies and instead run to salons to wax, thread their eyebrows and even get a bikini wax before engaging in sexual acts for the first. The reason for this is simple: the desire to look beautiful in the eyes of their partner and thus feel good about themselves and their bodies through the eyes of their partner.
It is not that only women and young girls have been the victims of these notions. Men too are not far behind in the list. When Dostana released, everybody wanted to have a body like John Abraham. Many men are forced to wax their chest in fear that their partner will reject them even before they engage in sexual intercourse. Men are also under the “hidden pressure” to have a chiseled physique, be tall and be without chest hair or body fat.
According to writer and educator Paul Kievel, men have been the victims of “man box”: a man’s capabilities have been limited inside a box; once they try and step out of this box, they are labelled as “not man enough”. Men have been taught to exercise their will over the female body. The box for women is equally limited where they have to conform to certain norms, one of them being preserving their virginity for the husband while others include going through the painful process of waxing.
When watching Bollywood films, one will notice that there is an overemphasis on hetro-normative sexual scenes. Sexuality is inclusive but Bollywood rarely acknowledges this aspect. Very few films talk about the sexual desires of a non-binary let alone that of a disable person. Often the way it is depicted on the big screen is stereotypical and portrays people from a certain section of the society in the wrong light.
“Indian cinema isn’t novelistic. It does not draw from real life , it only creates myths. Hollywood creates myths too, but they are a lot more observational stuff there also. In India, films are treated like religion and that’s why the stars are so idealised. Like gods in temples, characters on the screen are treated with reverence,” wrote Farrukh Dhondy in The Guardian.
Despite playing such a huge part in our lives, Bollywood continues to objectify women, create unrealistic standards of beauty and continue misleading us when it comes to sex. Several young impressionable minds that watch these films tend to accumulate the wrong ideas in their minds which are seldom corrected. Bollywood films need to change its depiction of sex scenes, as well as show realistic body images so that the next generation can survive without thinking how their bodies will look in front of their partner or have self- esteem issues.