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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 46 - Farewell to Bollywood's old joyful unreality

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.

"What 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.

In their 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 lip-service.

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.

Since Bollywood 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.

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