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Kiss In 'Bombay Talkies' Breaks New Ground In Bollywood


This weekend, the Cannes Film Festival pays tribute to the 100th anniversary of Indian movies. It will host the world premier of a film called "Bombay Talkies." Commentator Sandip Roy says one scene in that movie breaks new ground for Bollywood.

SANDIP ROY, BYLINE: There was an awkward hush in the theater in Kolkata. In 100 years of Indian cinema, we'd never seen anything like this: a man-on-man gay kiss in a Bollywood movie. Kisses are not that common in Indian films to begin with. This one was in a segment of "Bombay Talkies," four short films by four acclaimed Bollywood directors celebrating a century of India cinema.


ROY: Outside a multiplex showing the film, Sayan Bhattacharya, an editor with the Indian culture magazine Kindle, says he'd heard there might be a gay kiss.

SAYAN BHATTACHARYA: It was nice. But when I saw it onscreen, I was quite surprised, because it was actually a kiss, and not a cheat kiss.

ROY: A cheat kiss is something Indian films are masters at.

BHATTACHARYA: When the person's head turns around and you don't see their two lips touching.

ROY: It's not like Indians don't know how to kiss. In the 1933 film "Karma," the hero and heroine locked lips for four minutes. But in 1952, the Censor Board made India more prudish. Kissing onscreen became rarer. The "Bombay Talkies" kiss comes from director Karan Johar. He's best known for glossy family extravaganzas. The women wear clingy chiffon. The men are sculpted. College looks like Riverdale High, and the whole family dances the bhangra.


ROY: And gay men, when they show up at all, are queeny stereotypes.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Look at me. London ho-ya Miami. Aap-ka-beta-gay-hai, he likes men.

ROY: Sayan Bhattacharya says these gay characters are sad cliches.

BHATTACHARYA: Either they're objects of joke, or they are objects of pity. Sorry creatures, they're really, really sad and depressed. So they need our sympathy and empathy. It's like a pet dog.

ROY: But the character in "Bombay Talkies" is a different kind of gay man - out, sexual and unapologetic, even with his boss at the magazine where he's an intern.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #1: (As character) Let's see if you last that long.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Trust me. I last very long.

ROY: I was relieved he was not another limp-wristed, campy interior designer. But as a friend says, "Bombay Talkies" comes with its own stereotypes - gay as stalker, self-destructive, husband-snatcher. The critics are generally gushing about Bollywood's brave new world.

And though I've heard of some popcorn thrown at the screen, no one's held protest marches or ransacked theaters, as some did 17 years ago when the film "Fire" showed a lesbian love story set in Delhi.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS #2: There's no word in our language to describe what we are, how we feel for each other.

ROY: India's come a long way since then. The High Court has repealed the anti-sodomy law. There are queer film festivals and pride marches now. So "Bombay Talkies" isn't exactly revolutionary the way "Fire" was. And Sayan Bhattacharya, the magazine editor, is not reading too much into the big gay kiss.

BHATTACHARYA: I think it's too early to think of it as a landmark, because whether it's a landmark or not, you know, we will only know two years later if it opens the floodgates of more kisses.

ROY: A gay kiss with its own six-minute song and wet chiffon shirts in the Swiss Alps - now that would be a real Bollywood revolution.

INSKEEP: Commentator Sandip Roy is cultural editor for firstpost.com in Kolkata, India. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.