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Who needs kissing?
Bollywood eveloves from tradition to trash

December 17, 2004

I, like many other Iranians, have had a life-long love affair with Bollywood movies and music videos. It all started when I was about 7 or 8 and I was in London visiting my aunt's sister-in-law, who is of Indian descent. For the whole summer, she would play all these incredible epics, which mixed comedy, melodrama, choreographed song-and-dance, romance, murder and betrayal, all to the tune of Indian music and following the wild movements of colorful saris flowing from behind a tree.

I remember I had started to imitate them in their song and dance style which was all the more hard given I did not understand a word they were saying. But the beauty of these bollywood movies is, even without speaking the language, or having subtitles, you totally understand what is going on.

First of all, they all had the same plot:

Boy, poor, but handsome and with charm and sense of humor meets gorgeous Girl, with rich disapproving and traditional Father.

Boy and Girl fall in love but Girl is forced into an arranged marriage with son of father's friend/business partner, who is a brute.

Boy plots to get girl, with often hilarious results, such as posing as the manservant in girl's household, setting up brute to fail, and ends up winning the heart of the girl and her family.

In the end by some mysterious device, we find out Boy was actually switched at birth/adopted and real father is actually rich and powerful making him perfect match for Girl and the Indian caste system can then rest easy as there has not been an affront to its rigid pyramid-like structure.

And of course no matter how defiant the hero and heroine are to the wrath of their elders, and how much they flirt with each other from behind trees and bushes, one clear taboo is kissing on the lips. They may come close! But their lips never ever touch on screen.

As I grew up, I started seeing more modern Bollywood movies, featuring more independent heroines, a little more contemporary heros. I watched most of these strangely enough during many trips taken to Germany in the late 80s, early 90s (for some reason I decided to take 5 years of German language classes in high school). Instead of practicing my German, I ended up watching Turkish TV channels which always played these Bollywood movies. Have you ever watched an Indian movie dubbed in Turkish with Arabic subtitles on German television? I have.

In these newer, fresher takes on old Bollywood tradition, there was still the old plot of the Poor, Handsome Boy wooing the Rich, Beautiful Girl. However the girl would now be educated and (gasp) even want a career. Both Boy and Girl became much more Westernized usually shown through boy wearing Michael Jackson t-shirts and doing the dance numbers in Adidas and track suit, while girl replaced the sari with business suit and oversized dark sunglasses perpetually perched atop her head.

In these movies, the wooing of heroine by hero gets the help of modern technology, for example throwing bunches of roses on heroine's head from a helicopter hovering her house.

There is usually also a big tragedy such as an accident that leaves hero paralyzed for a week then miraculously recovers. During the paralysis, the hero dumps the heroine "for her own good." He then spends the entire break-up period gluing huge oversized posters of his beloved on the walls of his home then methodically ripping all the posters in half.

One movie in particular, dating from 1995, haunts my memory. The girl in this story is actually raised in England. Although she is traditional and demure "at heart", this does not prevent her from going on a (gasp) unchaperoned month-long trip to Europe (a nondescript village in Switzerland) with her girlfirends.

There she meets the hero, played by very likeable although clearly on-acid Shahrukh Khan, who is also raised in England but always professes he is "still an Indian man." During this trip our heroine gets drunk on cognac, wears a bathing suit, prays in a Christian church, shows both legs and cleavage, and ends up spending the night in bed with hero (although they don't "do" anything sicne they are both demure and chaste Indians "at heart").

Pretty risque stuff for Bollywood although one thing has remained the same. The hero and heroine never kiss on the mouth.

I thought this was about as far as the Bollywood world would push the boundaries -- until two nights ago. I was visiting a ghalyoun café near my house and saw, broadcast on a giant plasma TV screen, some new Bollywood music videos that I can only qualify as soft-core porn. These had barely dressed women gyrating their pelvis up and down on a bar, grinding their butts together and downing tequila shots faster than you can say arrrrriba while creepy guys with processed hair ogled and manhandled them.

My jaw permanetly dropped on the floor. These nouveau-slut Indian actresses or singers made all the overexposed blondes on MTV look like Victorian ladies wearing chaste bonnets and crinolines, clutching their handkerchief in their gloved, delicate hands. It was the shocker of all time.

But one thing has remained the same in the Bollywood world: Nobody ever kisses on the lips!

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