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Sari for the break

The erotic analogy of Indian cinema is out of the closet, but give us the wet sari anyday.

india Updated: Jun 03, 2006 03:22 IST
Piyush Roy

Nargis (Shree 420, 1955) shimmered in it, Padmini (Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, 1960) frolicked in it and Mandakini (Ram Teri Ganga Maili, 1985) had the nation talking about it. We are talking of the Bollywood heroine and the wet sari. Incidentally, these three sari affairs had the signature of the original showman, Raj Kapoor, who made ‘wet sari’ Bollywood’s permissible alibi to portray sexuality.

From the first Indian film Raja Harischandra (1913) which created the first ‘wet sari’ scene in Indian cinema, the unusual eroticism of the sari went on to allow the ‘pristine’ heroines of yore to look sexy and sensuous without any crude exposure. Though there were the vamps, who bared and dared, the wet sari remained the heroine’s counter call — and how. She matched the vamp’s sizzle quotient, yet remaining within the parameters of the Indian tradition, through most of Bollywood’s evolution in the last century. The parallel cinema movement too had its wet saris, though as an allegory to poverty a la Smita Patil bathing on the pavement in Chakra (1981), or as a symbolic act of cleansing, post-adultery (Rekha, Aastha 1997).

Aradhana (1969), took the wet sari to an altogether different dimension. Unlike Raj Kapoor’s restrained lust at the sight of his lover in a wet sari (Nargis, Barsaat (1949), for Aradhana’s Rajesh Khanna, the wet sari became an excuse for him and the virginal heroine (Sharmila Tagore) to stray.

Yash Chopra, however, brought back sanctity to the wet sari, as he drenched his virginal ladies in white in , film after film for that passion (not lust) effect. Like Vinod Khanna’s fond remembrance of his dead girlfriend (Juhi Chawla swaying in the rains to Lagi aaj saawan ki in Chandni (1989)). Son Aditya Chopra’s take on the lady in white in the rains however happened with Preeti Jhangiani’s tandav in Mohabattein (2000).

Today, anybody dons the sari and gets wet anywhere, anytime, monsoon or no monsoon, from Neha Dhupia to Mallika Sherawat. Occasional aberrations apart, like Urmila Matondkar’s Gila paani in Satya (1998) or Kareena Kapoor’s Behta hai mann in Chameli. Not to forget, elder sister Karisma Kapoor’s famous, throbbing kiss in the rain with Aamir Khan (Raja Hindustani, 1996). Incidentally, Karisma’s wet showcase was in a salwar kameez, a preferred wet outfit for the 90s’ heroines (gradually sidelining the wet sari) — be it a Sonali Bendre (Sarfarosh, 1999) or even a Kajol (Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham, 2001).

So who needs a wet sari anymore? Moreover, a voluptuous Padmini or Sridevi did justice to the wet sari compared to the current anorexic tribe. With the depiction of romance changed to a public thrust of body parts, it looks like Bollywood has bid a graceful adieu to the sari rather than keep flogging it for a sorry effect.