I watched Umrao Jaan yesterday. The old version. With Rekha Ji, who hasn’t earned the title
simply because of her long years in films but also because of her perfectionist attitude to acting. She’s sublime and mature in this film despite being young at the time.
The film itself is a ‘grown up’ film, potent and hard hitting, stating the facts of life of this young girl who was sold into prostitution. Though the film did average at the box office, it got critical appreciation and grew to become a classic. (There was the remake in 2006, which did poorly at the box office and wasn’t viewed highly by critics either).
It made me think, why, 30 years down the line, is it still difficult to make a film like Umrao Jaan? Why do we have such trouble portraying prostitution or sex in a mature and straightforward way?
Sure, we’ve learnt to be ‘bold’. Learnt to show off long legs in hot pants and using bad language with attitude. But the subject of sex is still taboo. Today, a film can show girls in very little clothing and men in tight pants gyrating in an item number and that’s accepted as a ‘family’ movie. But a girl and a guy fully dressed talking about sex? Now that’s an adult movie. That doesn’t make sense to me.
Sex is everywhere. We did not get to a population of over a billion by wearing bikinis. We got there wearing sarees, salwars, burqas, dhotis and kurtas. It doesn’t matter how covered up we are or aren’t, we are humans and that involves sex.
If a movie like Umrao Jaan 30 years ago could talk about sex so explicitly without really showing any skin, what are we doing today when we show only skin and refuse to talk about sex? I don’t know, but something seems off. Maybe what we really like is to ignore life around us, and dream about things we don’t have. Maybe because today, growing capitalism has taught us to want what we don’t have. Maybe that’s why gutsier films were made 30 years ago, when it was not so easy to live on credit cards, EMIs and social networking to live our dream life. Maybe 30 years ago, real life had to be faced. What do you think?
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