Devi (played by Richa Chadha) from Masaan is a lowly small-town girl from Banaras. But one fine day her world turns around and she is branded a prostitute. What did she do? She got involved in a consensual sexual relationship with her boyfriend. It was not those usual ‘got carried away in the moment’ clichés we usually see in movies. It was intentional and planned because she wanted to explore her sexuality. But the judgmental eyes of our society, ignorant of female sexual desire, ruined her plan, shaming her in the process.
A woman wanting more in a relationship is always slut shamed. The idea of sexual intimacy has traditionally categorised women as just givers and not takers. In an Indian marriage, sexual compatibility is never a criterion because in the end, women are just receptacles for men. Any complaints regarding the same are redirected to nowhere.
The general idea of sex in India is all about continuing the hierarchy. In simple words, sex is seen more like a procedure to just bear babies. Anything beyond that is ruled out as unnecessary.
Megha (Kiara Advani) from Lust Stories attempts to break this age-old notion. Newly married and seeking some carnal pleasure, Megha is left unsatisfied while her goofy husband Paras (Vicky Kaushal) enjoys his time without understanding the basics of sex and female orgasm. Lack of proper communication during intimacy and unsatisfactory sex life are interrelated in a country like India where arranged marriages are more common.
Megha however tries to explore her desire. Even when everyone came to know of it, she remained unapologetic of her actions, because female orgasm is a thing and what is she to do if others have no idea about it?
MASTURBATION is the ultimate hush–hush word for every Indian female! Terms and conditions for masturbation are entirely different for men and women. To be precise, while the act of satisfying yourself is completely normal for men, the representation of a woman enjoying masturbation are extremely rare to find. Kerala State Film Award winner Kani Kusruthi’s short film Memories of a Machine attempts to break the taboo surrounding female masturbation. The short film explores sexuality through human moral and instincts as a woman narrates her early sexual experience as a curious young girl and her quirky struggles in discovering “self” amid the traditionally bound system.
Swara Bhaskar’s masturbating scene in Bollywood film Veere Di Wedding was subjected to huge controversies not just because the scene in itself did not fit into the ‘ideal woman’ narrative, but also because Bhaskar’s political ideologies made her an easy target for the right wing trolls on the Internet to shame her and circulate the said scene on several pornographic sites.
You have sex with someone, you have to marry him/her is another prejudiced notion that dominates the general idea of intimacy. This is shoved down the throat of an Indian woman more than an Indian man. Appu (Aishwarya Lekshmi) from Mayanadi begs to differ. “Sex is not a promise” she says to Maathan (Tovino Thomas), who obviously mistakes their sexual interaction as a nod for getting married and settling with him forever. With this one scene, she brings out the true meaning of sexual desire and how it need not be confined just to marriage.
Ours is a country where a rape victim is denied justice by the legal system when they advise her to marry her rapist. The overriding belief is that the person you lose your virginity is the one you should marry, regardless of what you think or want. Such is the importance associated with notions of purity, virginity and the hymen.
Another critical approach towards representing desire is how entire populations of people are denied the right to express their sexual desire: such as the elderly, the disabled community, etc. The biological aspects may have certain conclusions but having sexual desires at 50 is no crime. Usha Parmar from the Lipstick Under My Burkha, lovingly addressed as Buaji (aunty) was widowed at a very young age. The matriarch remained unmarried since then. Yet, when she began nursing romantic feelings and exploring her sexual desires, she was shamed by her family members and the society that demanded her to be of a certain way that obviously excludes intimacy.
Veronica from Cocktail was a game changer for actress Deepika Padukone. As much as I loved the character, I found the plot of the film quite problematic. Veronica, who is too outgoing and independent by all means, likes Gautam (played by Saif Ali Khan). Gautam likes her too. But wait, he wants to marry Meera (played by Diana Penty), because well she is the embodiment of sanskaar and values, and by that logic, she is the girl you want to bring home to your mother. Veronica is rejected only because she is outgoing and upright about her sexuality. Her genuine feelings for Gautam are blatantly disregarded because she is not tame as Meera. This trope attempts to chastise young women by setting forth the point that if you want to find love, sleeping around is not going to help. The man, meanwhile, has no such restrictions.
Things are definitely changing but slowly. People, especially women are now slowly opening up and reclaiming their sexuality and desires. Truth be told, the films mentioned above have done their fair share in this too. With changing perceptions and healthy communications, things are sure to get better with time.
Anjali is a 22-year-old engineer and part-time movie blogger based in Cochin. 2-3 hrs of a good movie is all it takes to fix her mood. She believes that cinema has the power to influence our perceptions by communicating ideas and she finds that magical. Good books and good food are the second most effective mood lifters for her. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter.