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Desire is one-way no more

A filmmaker loves to focus his gaze on people who can seduce his audience. It's natural that beautiful women are deployed to satiate the appetite of the paying public.

india Updated: Mar 15, 2004 20:26 IST

The female form and the world of films are inextricably intertwined with each other. For as a medium of entertainment, cinema is right up the street of the peeping Toms of the world. That is the way it has been ever since the medium invaded the marketplace.

A filmmaker is essentially a voyeur armed as he is with an intrusive, if not always all-seeing, tool that can penetrate the walls that people build around themselves. It can sneak into secret spaces and record for eternity the briefest of moments of ecstasy and exhilaration. It can tap into the inner urges and desires of a collective of people through the images it conjures up.

A filmmaker loves to focus his (the gender emphasis is deliberate here; a majority of filmmakers around the world are after all male) gaze on people, events and situations that have the potential of seducing him - and his audience. It is only natural that beautiful women are deployed as a means to tantalize, inveigle and satiate the appetite of the paying public.

The situation is no different in Hindi films. From the sedate black-and-white era of Madhubala's scintillating pout to the current no-holds-barred, titillating ways of actresses of a far less inhibited age, Mumbai films have never lost an opportunity to exploit the obvious sexual charms of a pretty woman to bolster the viability of their technicolour, 24-frames-a-second dreams. Exploitation? Yes, that is a charge that crops up all too often to be ignored. But a medium with the sort of reach that cinema has, a bit of exploitation, especially in a film industry that thrives on its grip on a none-too-demanding audience base, is inevitable.

Indeed, the Hindi film heroine as an object of desire is as old as Devika Rani would have been had she been alive. She belonged to an era when screen goddesses had no qualms about doing kissing scenes. But that early period of liberality was replaced by a phase of prudery once the nation attained Independence. The expression of sexual desire suddenly had to be reined in and cloaked in visual euphemisms like a flower opening out before a bee or a cup of coffee frothing at the rim.

Yet, the mesmeric Madhubala, who raised the act of playful seduction to the level of a delightful art form, held sway over an entire generation of Indian movie fans. When Kishore Kumar crooned Ek ladki bheegi bhagi si to her in the 1958 laugh riot, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, the erotic element inherent in the interlude was merely suggested, not drummed in.

But with the advent of the 1970s, voyeurism took on a completely different edge as a certain degree of Westernised abandon took roots in the Mumbai film industry. That unleashed the likes of Zeenat Aman and Parveen Babi, who represented the unbridled sexuality of a new generation. Zeenat could sway unabashedly to Aap jaisa koi meri zindagi me aaye (Qurbani, 1980) or Aaj saari raat intezaar karungi (Manoranjan, 1974) and sent the masses into raptures of delight without raising too many eyebrows.

The art of seduction received a fresh lease of life with the advent first of Sridevi, who evolved from Ms Thunder Thighs to an evolved object of collective desire (best exemplified by the song Kehni hai tumse yeh dil ki baat, which she belted out draped in a see-through chiffon sari to the invisible Mr India) and then of Madhuri Dixit, who lent a new zing and prestige to the get-up-and-go spirit of a woman comfortable with being sexually desirable.

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First Published: Mar 10, 2004 12:45 IST