Readers Write In #294: Incest, sex and subversion in Bollywood

Posted on November 10, 2020

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(by Kartik Iyer)

Case in point: Angoor. Sanjeev Kumar is playing cards with Maushmi Chatterjee and Deepti Naval. Under the table, his feet are playing with another pair of feet; presumably his wife’s, Maushmi Chatterjee’s. Until, Naval points out to him that he’s fiddling the wrong toe. Naval is Chatterjee’s sister; thus, Kumar’s sister-in-law. She is the saali.

A.K. Ramanujan’s work in the field of Indian folklore points out, “Forbidden feelings of incest on the part of fathers and mothers towards their children, or of brothers and sisters towards their siblings, are faced and unpacked with all their implications”. With respect to the story (or as he’d rather put it, stories) of Ramayana, he mentions that in the Kannada tradition of oral telling, Sita’s “abnormal birth as the daughter born directly to the male Ravana brings to the story a new range of suggestions: the male envy of womb and childbirth, which is a frequent theme in Indian literature, and an Indian oedipal theme of fathers pursuing daughters”.

Today, one search on any porn website will yield numerous results for video titles containing the words saali, bhabhi, mother-in-law etc. People may argue that incest should be relegated to the dark (usually very bright) corners of Internet chat rooms. But how can we ignore it when it is on full display in two of the funniest Hindi films: Angoor and Chup Ke Chup Ke?

In Angoor, we have Sanjeev Kumar’s character, Ashok, almost sleeping with his brother Ashok’s wife, Sudha, played by Maushmi Chatterjee. Now the incest community might call this foul play, since it isn’t between blood-relatives. For us, it is weird enough to be humorously alarmed. And this isn’t even the only instance. By the end, it is revealed that the same Ashok also kissed Deepti Naval’s character, Tanu; his saali. This definitely won’t be accepted by the incest community because it is pretend incest by proxy. But in the age of representation, they should be happy that they’ve got something out there.

Chup Ke Chup Ke is a mild example of incest in Bollywood. Dharmendra plays Dr. Parimal Tripathi. His wife, Sulekha Chaturvedi, is played by Sharmila Tagore. As you’d have it, we have a female student who has the kinks for a male with a doctorate in botany. And of course, he’s a professor. The problem is that the female cannot shut-up about her brother-in-law, i.e jijaji; another favorite porn trope. Thus, Dr.Tripathi sets out to make a fool of this jijaji to prove to his wife that he is smart. The Ph.D wasn’t enough. I’m sure neither Hrishikesh Mukherjee, nor Gulzar, would disapprove of such a crude summary of the film.

The subversion of established sexual norms does not end here. In the first 30 odd minutes of Angoor, we have Sudha singing Hoton Pe Beeti Baat. A woman demanding that her husband fulfill the promise he made at their suhagraat. This promise includes chand chabana and bhigi khwahish. In essence, the woman is demanding an orgasm; ‘woman’, ‘demanding’ and ‘orgasm’ being the key words. After listening to this song, it isn’t a surprise that the same lyricist went on to write Jaba Pe Laga, Beedi Jalaile and Kajrare.

[Attention can be brought to another Asha Bhosle song, although in Marathi: Malmali Tarunya Majhe (My youth like muslin)]

Sai Paranjape did something similar in Chasme Baddoor. We have Farooq Sheikh repeatedly dipping his hands into a bucket of soap water while fantasizing about Deepti Naval. After a crescendo of shots, the bucket overflows with white mush. Much like… I need not be graphic. But the fact that a female was symbolically showing a man masturbating is in itself a remarkable scenario for Bollywood.

(Again, attention can be brought to V. Shantaram’s classic, Pinjara. Shriram Lagoo ends up in Farooq’s position. Instead of a bucket full of soap, he has a plate full of lotion.)

The subversion isn’t restricted to sex either. We have Rajesh Khanna getting high, and celebrating bhang (weed), in Namak Haraam by singing Nadiya Se Dariya. In the song, he claims that he learnt to live only after consuming cannabis. Then, director Hrishikesh Mukherjee literally lifts him up in the air. Gulzar stages a hilarious song sequence (Pritam Aan Milo) in Angoor with Deven Verma tripping frogs on edibles.

All of this suggests one thing: Bollywood has a tendency to be naughty.

[ A.K. Ramanujan quoted from two of his works: Folktales from India ; The Collected Essays of A.K. Ramanujan ]