How indulgent and consenting adults have made the Hindi film industry what it is.
Bollywood really doesn’t have much sex.
Sure, raunchy webcam pictures appear in part in ‘radical’ cinema like Dev D, but it’s been barely a decade since we mustered up enough courage to show actors regularly kissing on screen. An actress donning a bikini is still breaking-newsworthy on our television channels, and it remains a fascinatingly morbid thought to imagine just what will happen once a mainstream A-list actress bares a breast.
Nope, we’re a nation given primarily to euphemism, disguising intercourse with visuals of embracing daisies and lust with tremendous pelvic heaves, and we still keep the big screen relatively prudish. The new Bollywood generation claims transparency, but gives us only a very wet sari: there is the surefire suggestion that there’s something naughty right under that drenched white cotton, but damned if you can actually see a nipple.
The reason Bollywood manages to stay such a virginal young woman is largely because she’s a good liar. She puts out with remarkable frequency and extreme abandon, but — and this is the crucially artful part — she does it off the screen.
From the infamous casting couch to notoriously libidinous leading men, from backup dancers wanting to step into the item-girl spotlight to item-girls wanting speaking roles in movies, from a scurrilous bit of tabloid fodder to the real reason for a massive, industry-halting feud… there’s a phenomenal amount of illicit sex that courses through Bollywood’s lifeblood. She’s quite a nymphomaniac, this industry. And she bites.
The primary issue with writing a feature of this sort is that it’s exasperatingly hard to talk about sex without talking about who’s doing it. I’ve been a fly on the wall for quite a while now, and while I firmly believe everything is hearsay until you actually see two (or more) people in the act – a school of thought that works remarkably well at keeping me sane – the fact remains that you can’t dismiss the rumours either, even (especially?) if they sound too outlandish to be true. So this feature shall contain a few stories, a few exemplary tales of debatable/incontrovertible truism that I’ve heard. Choose to believe at your own peril, but what I can ensure, nay, promise is that no celebrities will be pointed at, not even allegorically. Innocent until proven guilty, as Shiney Ahuja’s publicist says.
An actress once told me about how she was excited to be finally working in a big, mainstream film, with a bunch of established superstar actors. She was the relative newbie on the sets, and – being as luscious as she was – it came as no surprise at all when a couple of the film’s biggest names expressed interest in inviting her over to their trailer for some after-hours, um, rehearsals.
The surprise, she felt, lay in the fact that they didn’t even make an effort. She was stunned, and sorely disappointed, that the film’s leading man, a great looking fellow and among the industry’s highest paid stars, didn’t even attempt to charm her. In this case, the pretty lady put her foot down and braved much friction on the sets. But she admits the superstar was well spoken and very attractive, and if only he’d made an effort to at least flirt… he might certainly have scored.
Superstars are a ridiculously pampered lot and the shooting-location jungle is lorded over by the man with the biggest trailer on the sets. He’s the big lion, the alpha superstar, and he is offered anything he wants on a platter, from sliced mangoes to tarted-up trollops. This is why the resident first-name-on-poster star genuinely believes its well within his rights to look on some prey-worthy bird and assume she’s ‘his,’ simply because he is who he is. Not based on his style, his charisma or even his looks, but just his brand.
The horror stories abound as some plucky actresses refuse to give in, and are mistreated for the duration of the film’s production, their finest scenes often ending up on the chopping room floor simply because they didn’t keep the hero happy.
As one may imagine, this doesn’t happen with A-list actresses. The successful dominate the sets, and have full run of their demands. The warped industry logic seems to be that those that have slogged it out, done their time and struggled up the food chain over the years, deserve now to have their needs taken care of. It’s like ragging in colleges, and they are now the seniors. Well, them and the star-kids, who have seniors for daddies.
One particular bit of industry gossip has assailed me from so many diverse sources that it’s hard to ignore. Apparently, a certain superstar drunkenly flirted with another superstar’s wife, and the two got intimate. The second superstar was justifiably outraged, and this led to much chaos as the two were then filming a movie together. Directors and producers were worried and the shoot was pushed till later.
During this delay, superstar B jetted off to a different country to shoot a romantic film with the initially drunk superstar A’s girlfriend, and as can be expected, he sowed some wild, on-location oats with the lady in question. One would expect this to truly exacerbate the situation between the co-stars and their stalled project, but the two men reportedly met on a set and hugged it out without a word. All was forgiven as one mistake was paid back with another.
Yeah, you read that straight, bonhomie at the expense of women objectified to the very hilt. The industry is this extreme, horrifying kind of a boy’s club where whatever the male stars say, goes. It isn’t as if a top-rung actress can shepherd young actors into her bedroom, and what her status truly means is that she’s just earned herself the right to say no, and a less grubby time on the sets than any other woman in sight.
Mumbai’s is a very testosterone-fuelled industry, with women succeeding as actors but hardly ever in other roles, especially the big ones, those of direction and production. And even the actresses don’t get top dollar. India’s highest paid actresses get a tenth of what the highest paid actors do, and their prices are always subject to negotiation.
Which isn’t to say, of course, that the women don’t take advantage of their position.
In a land of consenting adults, it is the women who can be sharply canny with their choices – as opposed to hapless, reckless men – and the prudence of their decision to bestow and withhold sex, depending on who exactly is asking for it, is what truly politicizes the Bollywood bedroom dynamic.
It is said that a prominent actress slept with a well-known director, springboarded that to launch herself into A-list status, and then married a top-rung actor. No skeletons stay closeted for too long in Bollywood, and said actor and filmmaker got to know about each other’s liasons, and a massive battle broke out, with both parties vowing never to work with each other again. As for the lady, she’s played her cards close enough to the chest to ensure a long professional relationship with either man, and has collaborated numerous times with each gentleman in question.
Sex as currency — and that’s not just limited to the Hindi film factory. You can play clean if you want to, but it’s not at easy as you may think. Fact: The industry is an incestuous little group of pretty people who have completely legitimised infidelity. Fact: This isn’t likely to ever change.
Blame it on us fans for idolizing the roguishly cavalier attitude in leading men through time immemorial, for them to treat married life like something to do when you’re home or being photographed, something that doesn’t get in the way of their groupie-giri.
Blame it on women for deciding that saying yes might be smarter than saying no, despite what their mothers might have told them. Blame it on men for shoving them up against the wall and leaving them with no choice but to capitulate or castrate.
Blame it on the players, blame it on the game. Blame it on the purveyors of a fleeting glimpse of fame.
Published Yuva, July 2009.