There's an increasing trend in the Indian cinema to sexy things up a little bit. For a long time, India's government censors wouldn't even allow kissing onscreen, a restriction that evaporated in 1996 with a long tongue-kiss in the film Raja Hindustani (Indian King). Now, however, filmmakers such as Pooja Bhatt are starting to test the boundaries by making films that feature actresses dancing in lingerie or sensual oil massages, films like Bhatt's Jism 2, which at heart, says its director, is really just an old-fashioned love story.
"Jism" is a Hindi word for "body," but that hasn't eased concerns among companies like Google, YouTube, and Apple, which have all expressed reservations about the title. Though filmmakers have insisted that no in-your-end-oh was intended, Apple has balked at filmmakers' request to have Jism 2 included on Apple's Movie Talkies app (Google, however, has allowed filmmakers to tag their ads with "jism," and YouTube has allowed the promotional videos to play on). If American companies are understandably squeamish about the title, Indian authorities (along with moralizing private citizens) are having a full-on shitfit about Jism 2's content. The film doesn't depict any full-frontal nudity (India isn't quite there yet), but it does feature oily massages prominently, as well as some lingerie promenades by its leading lady, Sunny Leone.
The push for sexier cinema and more sexual freedom in general has, unfortunately, ignited a backlash from traditionalists who have torn down posters for Jism 2. Police have even started arresting women in Mumbai bars who are dressed in "provocative" Western fashions, employing a rarely-enforced law that all bacchanalian revellers need to first obtain a drinking permit from the local authorities. Critics of sexier film fodder are often those people living outside of Mumbai's cosmopolitan social scene. As movies have gotten more naked, traditionalists have turned away from Mumbai's sleek productions in favor of regional cinema.
Pooja Bhatt's father Mahesh — Jism 2's screenwriter and a noted Indian provocateur — has dismissed the outrage his daughter's film has been greeted with as sanctimonious. He told the AP, "Pretending to police the moral values of a society is the easiest way for politicians to earn brownie points." He cast Leone for her role in Jism 2 on live TV, a stunt that caused a minor public uproar similar to the uproar that minor Bollywood starlet Sherlyn Chopra's < href="http://jezebel.com/5930079/first-indian-woman-to-pose-for-playboy-calls-it-an-international-accomplishment">appearance in Playboy has recently caused.
India's shifting moral tectonics have increased the rift between upwardly-mobile, Western-gazing Indians and traditionally-minded Indians who view a "good" Indian woman as a modest sari-wearer and a "bad" Indian woman as one who dresses in Western fashions and is "sexually available." The friction between these two groups, writes Mint newspaper's film correspondent Nandini Ramnath, is inevitably rooted in persistent economic disparities between those who have more and those who have less. Explains Ramnath,
There is a strong backlash against increasing economic freedom - against a certain kind of Indian woman who likes to wear what she pleases and eat and drink out at restaurants and pubs because she can now afford to. The sad thing is that women like Sherlyn Chopra are not blazing any feminist trail. They are reinforcing a notion that women are objects. They increase anxiety among the self-appointed moral guardians.
Jism 2, contends cultural studies lecturer Bhaskar Mukhopadhyay, really just functions as a tangible manifestation of the economic "grievances" of the "have-nots" — here is a movie that represents all the indolence and luxuriance of Mumbai's cultural elite. The movie, with all its underwear oil massages, is representative of a Western lifestyle that many in India do not have access to, especially when one considers that it's a sequel, and that, if all goes well, we can all expect the third iteration, Return of the Jism, to be even more controversial.
Bollywood gets racy with provocative new movie [AP via Yahoo!]