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The lips are unsealed
After decades of playing coy with the idea, the kiss has finally arrived in Bollywood cinema. A record number of films last year featured a smooch. But in most cases, the liplock was gauche.
The kiss has finally become a part of the essential Bollywood love scene. The kiss kept popping up all through 2012: in good movies (Barfi!), bad ones (Ekk Deewana Tha), potboilers (Student of The Year), indie films (London Paris New York), universal releases (Jab Tak Hai Jaan) and adult ones (Jism 2).
The kiss actually made a bold debut in the film industry in an English film Karna way back in 1933. The four-minute smooch between Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai was remarkably un-self-conscious and passionate. Maybe we were a far less conservative society in those years or maybe it helped that the kissers were husband and wife in real life.
Later, after a lengthy hibernation, the kiss continued to make brief cameos in films over the years but never inconspicuously. Movies such as Janbaaz (1986), Dayavan (1988), Fire (1996) were all movies where the kiss overshadowed the film. Directors preferred to have the kiss implied than shown. Amitabh Bachchan yodeled for a kiss for the entire duration of "Jumma chumma de de" (Hum) but when it arrived you knew only because there were lipstick marks on his cheeks.
But there is a problem with the current variety of the Bollywood smooch - it remains a self-conscious, gauche meeting of lips and nothing more. Watch, for instance, Imran Khan and Anushka Sharma in Matru Ki Bijlee Ka Mandola. In a pivotal scene, where wild-child Anushka Sharma finally realises her love for Matru, she moves forward to kiss him. But unfortunately, while there weren't any inhibitions, neither was there any chemistry. It looked liked they were repeatedly butting antlers in National Geographic type documentary.
In Jab Tak Hain Jaan, after some really convoluted twists and turns in the plot Shah Rukh's character finally descends to kiss Katrina Kaif. Here was a love scene directed by the King of Romance, Yash Chopra, and on 'Raj', the ultimate loverboy of Bollywood who refused to kiss on screen through the many decades of his career. There was a palpable sense of 'Will he? Won't he?' to SRK's first screen kiss. But what we got was something that can only be described in Harry Potter terminology as a Dementor's Kiss. The discomfort was more than evident. The First Kiss didn't work. Clearly running in mustard fields with a ukulele playing in the background is a far more effective romantic device for some.
Why do most of our on-screen kisses remain so unconvincing and lacking in chemistry? After decades of working its way around double entendres, Bollywood's awkwardness around the real thing is palpable. Our film industry is like Benjamin Button in how it has evolved over the question of depicting sex on screen. It spent a decade filming ghastly rape scenes, worked its way to some coded satin-sheet-draped coitus, then shed most of its clothes and became bodyproud. Now at the fag end of the struggle, it is grappling with the most basic act of love making, the kiss.
Here is one theory. A kiss is a delicate moment between two equals and that is hard for Bollywood to handle. We are okay with tacky rape scenes. We are okay with heroines pandering to the male gaze with songs like "Main toh tandoori murgi hoon, ghatak le saiyaan alcohol se" (Kareena Kapoor, Dabangg 2). But we cannot deal with a woman and man locking lips as a happy display of mutual love or lust. It is reduced to being an indicator of the film's cool quotient or an afterthought.
Is it that the grammar of Bollywood is usually so dramatic and over-the-top that something as fragile as a kiss pops like a soap bubble under its weight? Even an on-screen kiss should be unexpected and spontaneous. How much can you direct a kiss? You can't choreograph it like a sex scene or cue backup dancers to lend scale to it.
In Pretty Woman, there is a telling scene in which Richard Gere asks Vivian, the prostitute played by Julia Roberts: "What do you do?" And she replies: "Everything. But I don't kiss on the mouth. " Wise words indeed. Almost like a Bollywood rule book.
My vote for the best kiss on screen in recent times goes to Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh in Band Baaja Baaraat. There was terrific chemistry and the actors were relatively unhindered by any image baggage at that point of time in their careers.
Amongst the Khans, Aamir was the first to kiss (Raja Hindustani). After steadfastly refusing for years, Shah Rukh unbent with Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Hrithik Roshan is already a member with Kites and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Salman Khan refuses to be drawn into a kiss and so does Sonakshi Sinha.
And till it becomes as ubiquitous as a six-pack, Bollywood's quest for the perfect kiss is going to continue. Brace yourself.
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