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Sexuality in Mainstream Hindi Cinema

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 2966 words Published: 26th Jul 2018

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  • Himakshi Ratti


Films as medium of Mass Communication Film communication may be considered as a social process whereby a transmitted signal is received primarily through visual receptors (and, often, sound receptors) and is then treated as a message from which content or meaning is inferred. Film, as a symbolic form, is a process of communication that employs film, the medium, with its technology of optics, emulsions, and cameras, to produce a piece of celluloid with a variable-density silver nitrate surface. It is man who creates film communication. This definition suggests that a piece of film, in and of itself, is meaningless-that meaning exists only in a special social and cognitive relationship between a filmmaker and a viewer. This relationship occurs when a viewer chooses to treat a film not as mere signals triggering perceptual awareness and biological responses, but as message units that have been put together intentionally and from which meaning may be inferred.

Cinema is perhaps the mainstream of all art forms, most popular and most accessible, especially in India, a country which produces most number of films in a year compared to any other country (barring Hollywood, perhaps), and a country where we have a large base of cinema-going public. Cinema, more than any other art, has the power to influence people. Therefore, it is very important to understand how the country, its people and its aspirations are represented in the cinema produced in the country.

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Cinema as a medium of mass communication can be seen at different levels, serving different purposes. It can be an art form, an entertainment, a social document or a social critique. Cinema can be all of these and at the same time be a means to something else – a mirror unto our lives, showing us exactly how we function as society. Mainstream Vs Alternative Cinema Mainstream films can best be defined as commercial films that are made by major entertainment studios or companies that are owned by international media conglomerates. Because of better financing, these films can afford more expensive actors, wide releases or limited releases, and are sold at popular retail stores. This has become known as the studio system. Films made by major studios or companies that are not owned by a media conglomerate but are distributed by a company owned by a media conglomerate are also considered to be mainstream and are often referred to as mainstream independent films. As a mainstream medium (cinema needs money to be produced. Therefore, it must appeal to the mainstream audience, who will pay at the box office) cinema must, first and foremost, appeal to the mainstream audience. The definition of mainstream varies from society to society, from culture to culture. Broadly, it means representing the prevalent attitudes, values, and practices of a society or group, for example, mainstream morality. A cultural construct, when applied to art, mainstream may mean something that is available to the general public, or something that has ties to corporate or commercial entities.

Sexuality in Hindi mainstream films refers to the presentation in motion pictures of sexuality or eroticism and sex acts, including love scenes. Erotic scenes have been presented in films since the silent era of cinematography. Many actors and actresses have exposed at least parts of their bodies or dressed and behaved in ways considered sexually provocative by contemporary standards at some point in their careers. Some films containing sex scenes have been criticized by religious groups or banned by Govt. or both. Sexuality in cinema has been presented in many genres of film; while in some genres sexuality is rarely depicted.

Sex in films can be distinguished to a pornographic film and also from nudity in film, nudity can be presented in a sexualized context, for example nudity in naturalism would normally be regarded as non-sexual. In India, the entertainment industry is an important part of modern India and is expressive of Indian society in general. Historically Indian films have lacked the frank depiction of sex; until recently, even kissing scenes were considered taboo. On the other hand rape scenes or showing sexual assault were depicted openly. Currently some Indian states show soft core sexual scenes and nudity in films, while other areas don’t. Mainstream films are still largely catered for the masses of India, however foreign films containing sexuality are watched by Indians because of the same process of glamorization of film entertainment that occurred in Hollywood, Indian cinema, mainly Hindi-speaking Bollywood industry is also beginning to add sexual overtones.


A Brief History of Bollywood Sex and Romance

Bollywood classics cannot be beaten for their overt romantic tension, where intimate touching was replaced with the poetic, polite innuendo of hot rain and wet clothing. Indians are so reserved about what happens between consenting adults, considering India is the second most populous country in the world. In some ways, however, Hindi film makers have become more relaxed in their attitudes, as younger, Western-influenced generations come of age and make waves in an industry built on tradition. Previously unseen “taboos” like pre-marital sex, onscreen nudity and even wife-swapping have curiously been passed by the Central Board of Film Certification, the strict watchdog equivalent of the MPAA that has served as a censor since the early ’50s. Gathered below is a look at the landmark moments and trends that have raised eyebrows through Bollywood history.

Bollywood in the 70’s and 80’s was becoming westernized. Back then the appearance of a plain white brassiere represented the forbidden nature of onscreen toplessness. An actress wearing just her over-the-shoulder boulder holder who turned out the lights, for instance, would be implying that she would soon be showing her breasts to her lover. If anyone realized the power of such clothed titillation, it was Raj Kapoor, whose films began to push the envelope late in his directorial career. His unparalleled 1973 teen romance “Bobby” made an overnight pin-up sensation of Dimple Kapadia when she appeared in a bikini, and 1978′s “Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram” (which faced an uphill battle with the censor board, and was criticized by some as being exploitative) saw Zeenat Aman in a barely-there sari that defied physics by staying on. His final film, 1985′s “Ram Teri Ganga Mali” caused further controversy when 16-year-old star Mandakini appeared bathing in a waterfall, wearing only a sheer white. Today, bikini babes are far more prevalent in Bollywood culture, and 2000′s “Hera Pheri” even depicted male sunbathers in bikinis, mistaken as girls from a distance by the film’s protagonist.

Up until the ’50s, if Bollywood stars wanted to express love or even lust onscreen, clasping each other’s hands and staring longingly was about as risqué as it got. Hugging and light face caressing became the next leap over the following three decades, but it wasn’t until the ’90s that kissing was really acknowledged, let alone done. A woman might lean in for lip service, but would shyly run away before the deal was sealed, or else the actual act would be covered by a veil in the moment before. While this, too, is changing today (superstar actor Aamir Khan even

has a kissing clause put in his co-stars’ contracts; if they won’t kiss him, they can’t act opposite him), puckering up can still be contentious. Padmini Kolhapure made headlines when she merely gave Prince Charles a peck on the cheek, and after Aishwarya Rai got intimate with Hrithik Roshan in 2006′s “Dhoom 2,” obscenity cases were filed.

“Item numbers,” or highly sexualized, upbeat Bollywood songs with suggestive lyrics and choreography, began popping up in the late ’80s and especially in the ’90s. Designed to arouse, interest in the commercial films they appear in, item numbers are stand-alone showstoppers with no relevance to their movies’ plots, featuring either cameo appearances from famous stars — or more typically, “item girls.” Here, objectification should not to be confused with the sexy dancers in increasingly revealing clothing have become a little less stigmatized today, as some have used the showcase as a springboard into leading roles. Among the validated thespians, then, comes the notion of “skin show,” what India ambiguously calls any notion of actresses and even actors now, who are willing to flaunt more than what the conservative standards dictate. Dare-bare performers like Bipasha Basu in ‘Jism’ and the controversially outspoken Mallika Sherawat in ‘Murder’ have achieved notoriety for their scantily clad boundary-pushing alone.

Alternative Lifestyles

Bollywood plots have certainly progressed, less centered on arranged marriages and more on young urbanites dating and clubbing. But these are still baby steps compared to what has been accustomed to in Western society. India still remains closeted in changing sexual preferences. In 2003 “Kal No Naa Ho” treated homosexuality with slapstick, and the recent “Dostana” concerns two fakers in the same vein, but small strides have been made to bring sincerity and open-mindedness to the cinema. In 2005 “My Brother… Nikhil” subtly brought awareness to the AIDS crisis, but it never could have existed without the hugely controversial 1996 release of Deepa Mehta’s “Fire,” the first Bollywood film to depict homosexuality. When the latter film opened, there were angry protests and widespread vandalism — movie theaters showing the film were violently stormed, with windows smashed and posters burned. While it’s hard to believe such intolerance over so little could exist in the modern era. This too needs to be taken into consideration that “Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna” (which made waves for its dealings in adultery and divorce) and “Mixed Doubles” (about wife-swapping) were only made in 2006.



Kaiser Family Foundation found that Bollywood films such as ‘The Dirty Picture’, ‘Murder 2’ are ahead of all in portraying sexual content on screen. The biggest worry is that the ‘Bollywood’ is considered as the mainstream Indian cinema and one of the best in the world. And when these films despite of having bold content and vulgar story make massive amount of box office collection cause more and more audience to turn towards cinema hall. Today’s film critics are also somehow responsible for this as they acclaim such new way of making Indian films representing bold topics. They appreciate the filmmakers work a lot and boost their confidence for again getting involved into such kind of projects, which the filmmakers think that they are versatile in handling those sensibly. Even the name of the film ‘The Dirty Picture’ sounds very strange and suggests that the film is on adult subject. It is really disastrous when such films are broadcasted on television after 2-3 months from its release so that the film gets noticeable to everyone in different classes of the society. Rise of Item songs in movies performed by leading actresses is another example of public display of sexuality. 


A journal of the Association for Psychological Science found that, sensation seeking did not entirely explain these effects; the researchers also speculate that adolescents learn specific behaviours from the sexual messages in movies. Many adolescents turn to movies to acquire “sexual scripts” that offer examples of how to behave when confronted with complicated emotional situations.

Mainstream hindi cinema is most widely distributed cinema in India. Representation of sex in mainstream hindi films has veered between the sarcasm, comic and the criminal. Mainstream cinema now has adopted representation of sexuality in more realistic manner and is successful in raising, expressing and suggesting possible solutions to any problems in an effective manner.

Sex in stories should be infused in such a way that the society starts accepting it. The authencity and genuinity of sex in real life should be accepted the same way in the films too. The society has grown in so many ways. Indians have embraced the western culture with open arms, but a hesitation still persists among the Indian audience such western trends i.e. sexuality in mainstream cinema. The reality quotient establishes an emotional connect with the audience. Movies containing sexual content create a negative impact on the viewers and on mass media. Still in Indian society, such obscene visuals have many ill effects on people.




O’Hara said, “These movies appear to fundamentally influence their personality through changes in sensation-seeking, which has far-reaching implications for all of their risk-taking behaviours,” Movies get publicity out of pornographic content by showing it on screen. The media executives simply use their power to increase their ratings, popularity and to promote their movies. Portrayal of sexuality is used by film makers as a tool in order to appeal or attract maximum audience. Sexual content in films invite controversies which fetch a lot of free publicity for the film. Modern day film makers want the society to be open, frank and practical in their approach. The issues such as rapes, sexual assaults, etc. need to be addressed through mass media and create awareness amongst people. In order to give solutions and address such problems, the society needs to be comfortable with openly discussing and viewing such content.





Rajmeet Ghai points out that, Movies are harming our society .Gone the times when parents and elders were ready to watch the movie with their children! With the more western perspective, it is becoming seamlessly difficult for our culture to accept Hindi movies. Keeping aside the action and drama, the vulgarity depicted knows no bounds. India has always been known for its culture. However it’s rare to find movies based on any culture. Thanks to the media and the hype created of the celebrities personal lives, youngsters get influenced in the wrong way.

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The movies that depict extreme violence, murder cause mental harm to children. Teenagers become easy fashion victim of the skimpy dresses worn. Most of the movies show extreme drama which may hurt sentiments of people. The comedy movies, most of the times over do the humor by making a mockery of reality. Even though a majority of the movies are extremely entertaining, focus should be on culture, religion, etc. without hurting the sentiments of any community. Against Hindi movies can possibly be the best medium of entertainment. If made well, they can be easily used to educate the society on several issues. India being one of the largest movie producing country and due its wide acceptance, Hindi movies can be easily used to portray India’s art and culture. Most of the country’s population watches Hindi movies; hence it generates revenues rather than harming the society. They can be an excellent source of refreshment for stress.

The movies should not always be taken seriously. It is not necessary that each Hindi movie needs to pass some message to society. Violence has existed for years now. Hence blaming the Hindi movies for depicting and encouraging violence is not fair. As a matter of fact, the movies depict that good always wins over evil.


This chapter describes the methodology adopted for the study of Sexuality in mainstream Hindi Films.

In the present day scenario movies and sexuality are inter-related concepts. Movies with sexual content are generally rated higher than those with no sexual content. The current study will make an effort to examine the sexual content shown in hindi films and its effects on its audience and their behavior.

The two methods used are:


In this research, both a quantitative and qualitative content analysis has been done to determine the frequency of sexuality being portrayed in mainstream hindi films in the year 2013. All the hit films of 2013 have been calculated quantitatively determining the frequency and nature of instances of showing sexuality in a film. Here, unit of Analysis is any sexual gestures made in the movie.

Frequency of portrayal of sex has been measured. This includes the sexual content in only mainstream hit Bollywood films.

The qualitative content analysis is to do with the kind of sexual portrayal i.e. is it either to address a serious issue or is it just to titillate the audience n make money.

  1. SURVEY:

This study explores the use of sexual content in mainstream movies as a communicative strategy among the audience of these movies by employing the cross-sectional survey.

Sample- A non-probability sample of 100 people from the city was selected for the purpose of collecting information.

Tool of Data Collection- The instrument used for data-collection in survey is a questionnaire. The questionnaire comprises of 12 questions and is designed in order to analyze the respondent’s demographics, their views on present day scenario of films carrying sexual content, their perception of the prevalence of the existing trends.


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