India Insight

No consensus on sex, violence and censorship in Bollywood

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Reuters)

Getting directors, producers and activists into a room to figure out Indian cinema’s connection to violence toward women, rape and crudeness in society can be like a family gathering. People shout, get angry and fail to solve fundamental problems because they can’t agree on anything.

The Siri Fort auditorium in New Delhi recently presented the latest forum for the debate. India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting held a six-day festival there to celebrate 100 years of moviemaking, and there was little agreement on how much responsibility Bollywood and the film industry bear for the poor attitude toward women that many people evince. It was perhaps a more pressing discussion than usual, given the name of the three-day workshop, “Cut-Uncut,” which dealt with official censorship in India, the role of sex and violence in movies and the influence of films on society.

To be fair, it’s a question with no apparent answers. Indian films are wildly popular. Storylines and songs become part of the thread of everyday life in a way that’s different than nearly everywhere else in the world. They also reflect a strange prudishness when it comes to love scenes with dance numbers as a substitute – strange because the dance numbers can seem infinitely more erotic than any kiss on the lips or lovemaking scene that they’re supposed to be representing.

Then there is the premise, debated for years in the United States by the music and movie worlds, that these images and the attitudes behind them in cinema reinforce a mindset toward women that brought us horrific stories in the past several months such as the Delhi gang rape and the rape of a Swiss tourist in Madhya Pradesh. Verdict? No answer.

Shamshad Begum: A tribute to a voice long gone

(Hindi translations by Ankush Arora, with help from Havovi Cooper and Uzra Khan. Punjabi translation by Vineet Sharma.)

How do you pay tribute to a singer who faded from public memory, only to revisit the headlines when she died? I was wondering this today after learning that playback singer Shamshad Begum died in Mumbai on Tuesday, just 10 days after her 94th birthday.

I heard her voice for the first time not too long ago: her duet with Lata Mangeshkar in “Mughal-E-Azam” (“Greatest of the Mughals”) – Teri mehfil mein qismat (“My destiny in your court”) — is my favourite song of hers. In this song from the 1960 blockbuster movie, the two greats lent their voices to Anarkali (played by Madhubala) and Bahar (Nigar Sultana), who are vying for Prince Salim’s (Dilip Kumar) affections. The tension between the two characters is almost palpable, accentuated by Mangeshkar’s softness and Begum’s unorthodox, mature voice.

from Photographers' Blog:

Meet Miss Malini

Mumbai, India

By Vivek Prakash

Where I live is not the India of most people's imaginations or memories, and it's hardly the India I once knew as a kid.

My Mumbai has easygoing cafes, organic markets, swish malls, expensive restaurants serving great food and wine, fabulous nightclubs and raucous house parties. The idea that this India is any less "real" than bad infrastructure or the world of Slumdog Millionaire is misguided.

India has many crosses to bear - I acknowledge that. I'll be the first one to complain about crumbling roads, horrid traffic, corrupt politicians, impossible bureaucracy and the gulf between rich and poor. But you'd better get used to the idea that slowly but surely, generational change is taking place. My Mumbai is probably the India of the future.

“Vishwaroopam” touches yet another Indian nerve

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Reuters)

Actor and filmmaker Kamal Haasan’s film “Vishwaroopam” was supposed to open in cinemas last Friday, but that’s not happening in Tamil Nadu after Muslim groups protested against scenes that they consider offensive.

The tussle over what is acceptable material for movie audiences is the latest example of a recurring problem with art in India. If it offends someone, anyone, it risks being deemed unsuitable for everyone.

His name is Khan and he is misunderstood

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Reuters)

When Bollywood heart-throb Shah Rukh Khan shared his views on religious stereotypes in an article in Outlook Turning Points magazine, it turned heads as the editors likely expected. Some media outlets criticized Khan, saying he sought “refuge in Muslim victimhood.”

Hafez Saeed, founder of Pakistan’s banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba and a suspect in the Nov. 26, 2008 attack on Mumbai that killed 166 people, said Khan should move to Pakistan if he feels unsafe in his country.

It’s all in the family: India’s love for dynasties

Rahul Gandhi is now vice president of the Congress party. Anyone who has been following Indian politics will know that this was inevitable. Despite royal titles having been abolished, Indians can’t seem to give up on the idea of dynastic rule.

Whether it’s politics, business, or even Bollywood, Indians seem to have trust issues with anyone who is not their offspring, preferring to hand over the reins to their sons and daughters, irrespective of whether they might be deserving or not. The desire to make it merely on the basis of family name is reflected in a commonly heard boast at parties or dinner conversation: “Do you know who my father is?”

The Nehru-Gandhi family is of course the most prominent political dynasty in the country with four generations of the family having ruled the country, but they are not the only ones. There are several dynasties across party lines all over the country. Here are some of them:

from India Masala:

Bollywood and sex education

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Reuters)

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a Marathi film called "Balak Palak" (Children and Parents). A new crop of film-makers is portraying the burgeoning Indian middle class with its own set of problems and "Balak Palak" is no different.

Director Ravi Jadhav chronicles the lives of four school students and their first encounter with adult literature and how it alters their friendship. In the background is middle-class morality, which prevents parents from talking openly about the birds and the bees with their children, considers any such talk "dirty" but is clueless about dealing with their curiosity.

Responsibility or censorship: why Bollywood should pick

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters Corp.)

The mother and father of the 23-year-old Delhi gang-rape victim were cremating their daughter’s body around the same time I discovered Honey Singh, now lately known for his notorious song, “Ch**t,” or “Cu*t.” The song revolves around the singer’s vision of satisfying a woman’s lust, followed by beating her with a shoe and then moving on to other things.

While India convulses over its people’s shameful treatment of women, its inadequate rape laws and questions about how to change an entire society, Singh’s star has been rising in Bollywood. The industry apparently likes what it hears.

Banning Bollywood item numbers is no solution

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)

The gang rape and death of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi last month has made many Indians take a hard look at how they behave as a society.

What is the Bollywood film industry’s role in creating or perpetuating that behaviour, particularly the callous treatment of women at the hands of men? Some argue that the film industry’s portrayal of women is derogatory, particularly in “item numbers” — songs with sexual overtones in movies, often inserted with no relevance to the plot.

Kate Middleton topless photos: why it wouldn’t happen in India

People in Europe and the United States are blazing away over the topless photos of Princess Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. So they should. The ingredients in this recipe are:

1 royal
No clothes
Liberal dash of good looks, to taste
1 fancy title (Duchess of Cambridge preferred)
1 husband, must be possible heir to British throne.

In India, you could serve the same dish, but without the spice.

Here’s an example of a hot story: Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai took great pains to shield her daughter Aaradhya, AKA “Beti B” from the shutterbugs. But they found her! And took pictures! Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!

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