The earworm Ban Ja Rani from Suresh Triveni’s recent hit Tumhari Sulu continues a unique tradition in Hindi cinema: the celebration of interrupted sex.
Housewife Sulochana (Vidya Balan) is known to speak her mind, and her intentions are clear when she tells her husband Ashok (Manav Kaul) that his mouth has not been put to proper use of late. They pack off their son on an errand one afternoon and launch into an elaborate seduction dance. The song’s climax is an anticlimax: their son returns from his errand before time, proving that foreplay is definitely overrated.
The idea that anticipated coitus is more fun when interruptus is a well-established element of Hindi film romance. Popular Hindi cinema has certainly become less squeamish and more tasteful about the various stages of sexual activity. When on-screen couples hug or kiss or make love these days, the heroes do not look like perverts and the heroines do not resemble deer facing headlights. Although the days of the woman trembling in terror from her man’s advances are not behind us – witness Shraddha Kapoor quivering on her wedding night in Haseena Parkar (2017) – big-budget Bollywood has definitely overcome some of its icky attitudes towards sex.
However, the idea of the build-up being more important than the act itself is probably closer to Indian reality. Numerous movies have explored this sad truth in a country with conservative attitudes towards sexual pleasure, nosy family members and the lack of privacy.
Basu Chatterji made a whole movie on the effect of cramped living quarters on the sex lives of a newly married couple. In Piya Ka Ghar (1972), a remake of the Marathi movie Mumbaicha Jawai (1971), Ram (Anil Dhawan) and Malti (Jaya Bhaduri) learn the hard way that a joint family is not conducive to marital bliss. After several thwarted encounters, the couple finally get what they have been seeking a few minutes before the end credits. The lyrics of the movie’s most popular song sums up Ram’s frustration: “Yeh jeevan hai, is jeevan ka, yahi hai, yahi hai, yahi hai rang roop.”
The wedding night sequence, another disappearing practice in movies that are far less moralistic than before about pre-marital sex, is all about the ritualistic preparations: the bed strewn with roses, the glass of milk borne by the shy bride, the groom bursting out of his sherwani, and the blurred-out editing transition that suggests that the deed has taken place off-screen.
Not all wedding nights unfold as prescribed. In Vijay Anand’s Blackmail (1973), Kailash (Dharmendra) is all set for the big moment when he learns that his bride Asha (Raakhee) has jilted his friend Jeevan (Shatrughan Sinha). Unaware that he is being sucked into Jeevan’s scheme to separate the couple, Kailash euphemistically tells Asha that he cannot accept her and proceeds to sleep in an adjoining room. The couple finally succumb to their mutual desire in the fabulously filmed Mile Mile Do Badan.
Euphemism also comes handy in Dharmesh Darshan’s Dhadkan (2000). Anjali (Shilpa Shetty) loves Dev (Suneil Shetty) but is forced to marry the saintly but also conveniently wealthy Ram (Akshay Kumar). On their wedding night, Anjali rejects Ram’s overtures, and his response earns him a place in the pantheon of gods. I will not any forge any kind of relationship with you without your consent, Ram tells Anjali before offering a platonic compromise: they will sleep at their respective corners on their silken-sheeted bed. The distance is shrunk minutes before the interval, at which point Dev lands up to wreck the marriage.
Other memorable wedding night fiascos include Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Romeo and Juliet adaptation Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela (2013). A hot and heavy build-up involving elaborate choreography between the glistening bodies of Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone proves to be a time-wasting exercise. Ram is tricked away by his friends while Leela is abducted by her family. They remain on opposite sides of the divide until the tragic end, when Leela sadly tells her ribald husband that while he has managed to experience sexual pleasure, she never got the chance.
Hence the American saying “Cut to the chase.”
In Mani Ratnam’s Roja (1992), the union between Rishi (Arvind Swamy) and the titular heroine (Madhoo) has to wait until they move to Kashmir, where he has been posted as a cryptographer. Roja has married Rishi against her will, and she signals her displeasure by sleeping on the floor on their first night together. She has been clearly unmoved by the suggestive choreography in the song Rukmani Rukmani that is staged after the wedding ceremony. The tension builds up until Roja realises that she has erred in her decision. It takes another song, Pudhu Vellai Mazhai, for Roja to finally give in to Rishi.
Obstructed sex also features in Ratnam’s Dil Se, in which Amar (Shah Rukh Khan) comes dangerously close ever so often to the mysterious Meghna (Manisha Koirala), only to be derailed each time by forces beyond his control. The one time they finally embrace, Eros turns into Thanatos. Meghna is a suicide bomber, and Amar wraps himself around her to prevent her from killing anybody else.
Sex proves to be just as deadly in Rakesh Sawant’s Wafaa: A Deadly Love Story (2008). It is billed as Rajesh Khanna’s comeback but better known as the movie that fans of the 1970s star would rather erase from memory. Business tycoon Amritlal (Khanna) and Beena (Pakistani actress Laila Khan) are deeply in love, but every time Amritlal responds to his wife’s uninhibited lovemaking, he is consumed by an asthma attack. As Amritlal gasps for breath and reaches for his inhaler, Beena flees the bedroom in anguish. Beena eventually takes refuge in the arms of younger and hunkier men, with predictably tragic consequences.
Endlessly mediocre from start to finish, Wafaa is best known for its soft-core scenes, Khanna’s bedroom antics, and Laila Khan’s deep breathing. It is a wonder that asthmatics did not sign a Change.org petition against the movie, although anecdotal evidence suggests a spike in online searches for “Does asthma hinder sex?”
In the case of some couples, scheming family members prevent spouses from fulfilling their social duties. In Indra Kumar’s Beta (1992), Laxmi (Aruna Irani) has severely infantilised her stepson Raju (Anil Kapoor) in order to maintain control over the family fortune. Raju nevertheless displays a streak of rebellion by marrying the headstrong Saraswati (Madhuri Dixit). Laxmi tries her next best tactic: she tells Saraswati that if the marriage is consummated, Raju will die.
For some other lovers, conscience prevents them from heeding the stirrings in their loins. In Feroz Khan’s howlarious Prem Aggan (1998), Suraj (Fardeen Khan) and Sapna (Meghna Kothari) shed most of their clothes before an inviting fireplace. Sapna implores Suraj to give her the “haseen dard” (sweet pain) that only lovers may know, and Suraj enthusiastically obliges before pulling away at the nth minute. Let’s wait until our wedding, he tells Sapna. She agrees, and tells Suraj that she was only testing him. File away under “Having your cake and eating half of it before throwing it away.”
Interruptus also involves husbands lusting for women who are not their wives. In Anees Bazmee’s aptly titled No Entry (2005), a remake of the Tamil movie Charlie Chaplin (2002), Kishen (Anil Kapoor) pants for the beauteous Bobby (Bipasha Basu). Kishen nearly manages to fulfill his fantasies but again, it’s the dratted Hindi movie song that plays spoilsport. By the time Kishen reaches the place where he needs to be, his wife Kajal (Lara Dutta) has burst into the room.
In Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (2015), interrupted sex has deeply tragic consequences. A highly awaited encounter between Devi (Richa Chadha) and her boyfriend Piyush is ruined by a raid by a corrupt police inspector. The boyfriend kills himself out of shame, and armed with an incriminating video of a semi-clad Devi, the inspector blackmails her father (Sanjay Mishra).
Devi retreats into a catatonic state, and finally achieves peace only in the final sequence. This is one of the few movies in which the idea of sexual obstruction achieves larger meaning, reaching beyond the body and travelling into the soul.