THE news that young film-makers of
India’s Bollywood have abandoned traditional screen modesty that barred
even a passionless peck between lovers and are showing productions that
include condoms, rampant female sexuality - and, presumably, enthusiastic
male interest - and kisses, doubtless sounding like tyre explosions, fills
me with a mixture of shock and sadness.
As one brought up in the days when
to hold hands with a girl in the street was regarded by austere citizens
as a libidinous practice, and when only after several years of dedicated
courtship would a young man be allowed to kiss a lower earlobe of his
lass, I see the Bollywood bombshell as disintegrating one of the last,
great moral institutions of the entertainment world.
I have been an
unswerving fan of Indian boy-meets-girl films, regarding them as
un-touchable in their mixture of coy courtship, merriment, song-and-dance
sequences that featured females shimmying and shaking, a bit like old cars
exploding into life after being cranked up.
The men pursued, the women were
chaste and often hid archly behind trees and shrubbery. They resembled
Keatsian figures on a Grecian urn; the females, unravished brides of
screen sound and quick time often romping in leaf-fringed landscapes.
mad pursuit?" as the poet wrote, "What struggle to escape? What pipes and
timbrels? What wild ecstasy?"
What a great laugh. There was no
necessity to show sex in its every gurgle, groan, gasp and grunt,
audiences knew that once the couple were wedded and bedded, they would go
at each other with the exuberance of Sumo wrestlers.
reticence towards explicit sex, these films re-minded me of Hollywood’s
earlier, stern-as-a-rock-bound-coast approach to filmic morality where the
smack of sexual decency was confined to kissing and the sex act was
implied heavily or hinted at coyly.
In antediluvian Tinsel Town,
before the gross cascade of sex-sodden scenarios, the silent movie star,
Rudolph Valentino, smouldering his glances and kissing as if he were a
tester in a bubblegum factory, exuded high-grade, reusable sexuality, but
never did the bold boy and his brood of ecstatic maidens bare anything,
except perhaps their souls and, sometimes, their teeth.
We have come a
long screen way from these days and the talkie times when, in the 1934
comedy, It Happened One Night, Clark Gable, who shares a hotel room with
Claudette Colbert, erects a draped blanket - the "wall of Jericho" -
between the twin beds as a security against lust-minute lapses.
I, even I, have
seen the Apenninal-breasted Jane Russell in a 1943 Western climb into bed
with somebody called Billy the Kid - to keep him comfy during his fever
bout - thus showing her cleavage in an act of severely bridled passion.
The film was originally considered too salacious to be shown. Audiences
heroically adapted to the ordeal, and I only saw it to de-plore it.
The old films
left overt sex to the screens of imagination. Kissing was an obvious
seismic scale of passion, ranging in intensity from resemblance to a
goldfish lipping ants’ eggs to sounds suggesting that someone was trying
to clear the drains.
My favourite is the smacker in Gone With The Wind,
where Clark Gable says to Vivien Leigh, while Atlanta burns and audiences
perspire, "Never mind about loving me. You’re a woman sending a soldier to
his death with a beautiful memory. Scarlett, kiss me. Kiss me once," and
he darts at her like a seagull at a crust and gives her instant
Later, he heaves her, drooping like a badly-stuffed
portmanteau, to her room and has, what is suspected, his way with her, but
you see nothing of that. There is no need.
Film sex, seen in all its
acrobatic and perspiring intensity, can become a bore, apart from the
danger of giving the partici-pants a stiff neck and lockjaw.
In the 1945
film, Brief En-counter, the closest contact Trevor Howard has with Celia
Johnson is to remove a piece of grit from her eye. No intensive grappling
is necessary. Re-strained sexuality and tenderness triumphs.
is treading the financially-rewarding primrose path laid out by its
Ameri-can rival, it can kiss goodbye to me as an audience member.
I preferred its
old joyful unreality and innocence, the last quality, in film terms, about
as rare as tea dances and tap-dancing in the Taj Mahal.