Whoever said Indians don’t kiss? Aditya Chopra’s upcoming film Befikre has been putting out a series of posters featuring its lead pair in various stages of lip-locking. Ranveer Singh and Vaani Kapoor have been at it like there’s no tomorrow in friendly European locations where such activities do not invite the attention of the moral police or Pahlaj Nihalani.
Chopra has gone one step further to promote his December 9 release. The first song from the soundtrack is appropriately called Labon Ka Karobaar (This kissing business). The video of the smooth tune, composed by Vishal-Shekhar and sung by Papon, is an ode to the joys of public smooching in Paris. From an elderly couple to aggressive lovers at a bus stop, Chopra seems to be saying, look, this is how the City of Love lives up to its name. Full marks to Chopra for featuring a lesbian kiss at 2 mins and 15 secs, and for ending the video with the slogan “Kiss Carefree. Love Carefree. Live Carefree.”
It’s rare for a movie song to celebrate the kiss with such abandon. There are various rules about the kiss in Hindi films, the first of which is that there is no such thing as the kiss in Hindi films. A liplock scene rarely goes unremarked upon, but it has been accepted that songs can celebrate the act and go where the rest of the production does not dare to.
Even here, there are numerous obstacles. The Hindi word for kiss, chumma, has a ring of obscenity to it, which is probably why musical tracks about the one thing that citizens of the world’s most populous nation do not do are couched in lasciviousness.
By and large, Hindi film heroes and heroines bring their quivering lips close and then freeze before the liplock. It’s usually the woman who turns away, her face contorted with what seems to be pleasure but is actually terror. Since kissing can sometimes be a prelude to sex, its screen depiction necessarily defers to Indian values. Flowers and plants suddenly come to life and start colliding with a force that the average botanist will be hard-pressed to explain. Cheeks may bounce off each other, collarbones may be explored and throats examined, but the lips may not meet. A strategically placed garment or a sudden cutaway to an inconsequential object in the vicinity will veil the actual act and end the collective discomfiture. In such a repressed atmosphere, it is easy to mishear “Kis Kisko” as Kiss Kiss Ko”.
The film song that is set in locations designed to encourage the discarding of inhibitions, such as the fog-filled hill station, the decadent European city, or the rain-drenched city quarter, is the best possible excuse to finally let lips meet, but it is not that easy. Somebody is always watching – government censors, the censorious public, the movie star’s fans who are embarrassed on their icon’s behalf. In a song from Ram Jaane (1995), Shah Rukh Khan, who famously does not kiss in his films, prefers to catch an animated pair of red lips rather than let his own do their work.
Who can blame Khan or his peers, most of whom regard kissing as a moment of weakness that can have unforeseen consequences? To misquote from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992), a kiss can be deadly if you mean it.
Some of the disgust associated with kissing is because it has been stacked in favour of the puckering male. It is usually the man who demands a smooch from the woman, and since he is accompanied by a posse of leering men, the woman flees in the opposite direction. She is often tamed by the end: one small step for the Hindi film hero and a giant misstep for the portrayal of women on the screen.
This tendency of Hindi cinema to assault the lips of terrified women was brilliantly captured by the great artist Atul Dodiya in his painting series Saptapadi: Scenes from Marriage Regardless (2003-2006). One of the paintings is from the movie Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja (1993), and the unwilling recipient is Sridevi.
Rarely – very rarely – there emerges the upright Indian male who will protect his mouth as the shameless Indian female tries to make contact with it. He will offer his cheek, like Jesus, and never succumb to temptation even when she is throwing desperate hints his way.
A woman who is open to kissing is usually of questionable character. What other kind will describe her lips as “juicy” and invite the attention of such chick magnets as Anil Kapoor and Nana Patekar?
Songs that promise guilt-free and presumably equitable snogs can be deeply misleading. Our devious filmmakers will add a track called Kiss of Love to a soundtrack but shroud the highly anticipated moment in darkness, forcing viewers to use their imagination instead.
When the kiss is actually consummated, it usually makes the headlines and sells tickets. Emraan Hashmi has earned the unfortunate reputation of being Hindi cinema’s leading smooch artist. It all began with Murder (2004), Anurag Basu’s copy of the Hollywood film Unfaithful (2002). The song Bheege Hont Tere Pyaasa Dil Mera (lyrics by Sayeed Quadri) left little to the imagination, and Basu piled on the torrid lovemaking imagery. The result: Murder was a massive hit, and poor Hashmi found that his lips were in greater demand than his other skills.
Keen purveyors of the science of the union of the lips might, however, find fault with Hashmi’s potentially injury-causing suction action. They might prefer more subtle practitioners of the art, such as Ranbir Kapoor and Ranveer Singh. That is also why Labon Ka Karobaar from Befikre is so important. Above all, it is a how-to-kiss primer, one whose video will be watched, paused, and rewound endlessly by Indians who don’t usually kiss, but are finally beginning to.