Jeremy Page in Delhi
A kiss may be just a kiss in most of the Western world — and increasingly among India’s Westernised urban elite.
But when it is on screen and between two of Bollywood’s biggest heart-throbs it still amounts to a whole lot more than a hill of beans.
NI_MPU('middle');In fact, according to an Indian court, it could be considered a crime.
A criminal case has been filed against Aishwarya Rai, the former Miss World, and Hrithik Roshan over their on-screen kiss in Dhoom 2,
the recently released action film.
Shailendra Dwivedi, a lawyer in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, filed the suit last week and a court has agreed to hear the case on Monday.
Mr Dwivedi accused the pair of lowering the dignity of Indian women and encouraging obscenity among India’s youth. Legal experts say that the suit is almost certain to be thrown out by the court. But it nonetheless highlights the enduringly conservative attitudes towards public displays of affection in the country that produced the Kama Sutra
The suit was filed a few days after another public storm over a photograph of Vasundhara Raje, the woman Chief Minister of Rajasthan, air-kissing a woman at a World Economic Forum meeting.
The photograph, taken from an angle, makes it look like the two women are kissing on the lips. Several Indian media outlets ran the picture alongside protests from politicians and commentators, who branded it obscene and vulgar.
Analysts say that both kissing controversies speak of the social gulf between India’s increasingly Westernised middle class and its highly conservative masses.
Today, most young middle-class Indians are exposed to the same sort of films, television shows and computer games, laced with sex and violence, as their Western counterparts. They also enjoy greater freedom than ever to date, and kiss, beyond the prying eyes of their parents. “There’s a structural change taking place in relationships because of urbanisation,” said Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist from Jawaharlal Nehru University.
In most of India kissing in public is extremely rare between heterosexual couples — and unheard of between homosexual ones. Bollywood films started to show on-screen kisses only in the late 1990s, and they were mostly sanitised smacks on the lips.
But the film industry must still tread a fine line between keeping up with the times and offending its core audience. And whatever they do in front of the camera, female stars remain fiercely protective of their reputations off screen.
In 2004 Kareena Kapoor, another Bollywood actress, sued a Bombay tabloid after it printed pictures of her allegedly kissing her boyfriend in a restaurant. Ms Kapoor, who had appeared in an advertisement covered in chocolate, said at the time that she belonged to a respectable family and could never have performed such an act in public. Ms Rai and Mr Roshan were not available for comment.