Why bother with crossing legs?

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.

~

jessica_rabbit2An 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.

~

Jessica_RabbitWhich 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.

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Why bother with crossing legs?

  1. AT

    awesome read! and Oh so true!

    however you lied when you said “promise is that no celebrities will be pointed at, not even allegorically.”

  2. interesting predicament. i’m sure there’s a lot of male-on-male action with respect to casting couchin’ as well. i look forward to women making their way into greater positions of power and hopefully making the space a more supportive one for other women… though some of them might only choose to aggravate the situation instead. ;\

    interesting how the bollywood audiences keep having amnesia with respect to kissing and “exposing” being a new thing — sharmila, dimple, zeenat, and parveen sexed things up quite a bit back in the ’70s, and even madhuri had some pretty steamy scenes in the 80s/90s. i’d like to see better, more empowering representations than the trash they come up with nowadays which only encourages men to be leering assholes. i always cringe when female sexuality is shown as sinister (jism) or worse when rape scenes are used for titillation.

  3. Anon

    Yes, there is a casting couch. But it applies to both male and female newbies.

    Then you also have the ‘gay’ BW clique (producers, directors, actors, etc.) who control who gets what roles in their movies. It is pretty obvious if you open your eyes to what is going on. This clique surrounds themselves with actresses who have slept their with to the top or have hidden addictions which they use to control them.

  4. Excellent article. I particularly like how the examples do not actually give any identities away. Or maybe I just haven’t been paying enough attention to filmi gossip to make any connections :)

    The whole ‘bros before hos’ mentality isn’t relegated to just the film industry, I guess. As a culture we (Indians) take infidelity as some kind of god-given right, or an inevitability. And just like we in the audience do everything but admit to nothing (everyone is a pious vegetarian on a matrimonial site, for instance) is it any wonder that sex is something the industry will never embrace (pardon the pun) in their work, i.e. the movies themselves?

  5. vvyes

    Interesting topic. Would love to delve into the mindsets of all parties concerned to know the real answers which I suspect would read the same as the tail piece of the article. It would have been easy to slip into a bit of inadvertent moral posturing which you thankfully did not. I keep telling others (& myself) that ethics is what one would do when confronted with a real situation and not about what you hypothesise you would do. Substitute ethics with morality to the same end.

    I will leave you with two alternative perspectives – both from women.

    “He wouldn’t talk to me for two months. I was like, ‘What an ass**le.’ Actors are used to getting their way and to treating women like objects. ” – Jennifer Lopez on Wesley Snipes after she reports he made unreturned passes at her.

    “If you have a vagina and a point of view, that’s a deadly combination.” Sharon Stone

    Sharply contrasting; let us take the names away for a moment and think, could not these views easily have come from the same woman at different points in time?

  6. Came here through Mallika Sherawat’s twitter… very interesting essay. I’m going to have to go back and read it again before I comment… :)

  7. Anony

    Males always have portrait the women as weak ever since our study of Indian civilization and they have being using women as they like and mostly exceptions allowed to them.
    When males have never accepted women as intellectual, independent then Indians can’t change their views and perception about women.
    Also what you have wrote has being captured numerous times in different format and some have being classified as true stories on silver screen.

  8. Oh come on, I want NAMES ;-)

  9. “but damned if you can actually see a nipple”…hahaha…so so true…

  10. do u read greabong? (greatbong.net) r u frends?

    http://twitter.com/krishbhatt

  11. Real people do it. Fake people evidently do it as well. You hide it, you flaunt it, life needs some kind of living and from the looks of it, a way to make a living. *shrugs*

  12. pitu

    I think you summed it up perfectly. And I am still shocked at Aby’s acceptance of, and friendship with Salman, a man who in Ash’s words, physically and emotionally abused her. Clearly, it’s all about money and power. Otherwise what man would even be civil to a guy like that? Hope you don’t reject/delete this comment ;-)

  13. nk

    excellent piece! I really enjoyed reading it and trying to guess all the names!

    and as for the whole casting couch thing, i’m not surprised. it’s disgusting and demeaning for women, but not surprising. honestly, women face such issues whether it’s the “casting couch” or the inequality in pay, in any industry all over the world. It’s not as prevalent or prominent as what happens in the film industry, but it’s still there.

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