Hindi Diwas: How Bollywood used the language cleverly to address sexual taboos this year

Devansh Sharma

Sep,14 2017 12:54 15 IST

It is a little known fact that Akhilesh Jaiswal's 2014 biopic Mastram did supremely well at the box office as it earned almost Rs 3.50 crore on its opening weekend despite its modest budget of Rs 75 lakh. The film chronicled the life of a clerk who turns into a Hindi erotica writer and writes pornographic novels under the pen name of Mastram.

It is difficult to zero in on the reason why Mastram was a box office success. In a landscape that is dominated by sex comedies like Masti and Kya Kool Hain Hum or titillating murder mysteries like Hate Story and Ragini MMS, Mastram came across as a refreshing story of an erotica writer, told rather more innocently by that yardstick. However, since it was a small film struggling to get noticed by the mainstream biggies, the film could not initiate a conversation about the taboos of sex, erotica and porn in the country.

A still from Mastram. YouTube

A still from Mastram. YouTube

However, a recent spate of films that released this year have managed to do just that. Case in point: Alankrita Shrivastava's Lipstick Under My Burkha, which despite its small budget, grabbed attention owing to its tiff with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

While the CBFC, then-headed by Pahlaj Nihalani, was skeptical of the film being sexually overt, it in fact proved to be a breath of fresh air after the release. The film starts with a narration by Ratna Pathak Shah's character who is reading out lines from a Hindi erotic novel.

The narrative of the erotic novel titled Lipstick Ke Sapne binds the four parallel women-oriented narratives of the film and provide a common template for all of them through its protagonist Rosie. As Ratna's articulate voice suggests, Rosie is a woman proud of her sexuality but refuses to showcase the same to the world out of fear. The fear, however, does not stem from lack of confidence, but from the insecurity of not being able to continue her covert sexual endeavours for long.

What the craftily written lines of Rosie's story achieved was to convey stories of women's sexual desires while being very matter-of-fact about the act of sex itself. The myriad range of metaphors and similes used in the writing ensured that the visuals do not give out the impression of an attempt to titillate the audience. The tight Hindi narration made sure that the film remains unscathed by allegations of using sex as a tool to lure viewers to cinema halls.

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A still from Lipstick Under My Burkha. YouTube screengrab

Besides Lipstick Under My Burkha, another film that has managed to address sexual taboos through its articulate yet subtle Hindi dialogues is RS Prasanna's Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Ayushmann Khurrana, who had already played the role of a Hindi erotica writer in Akshay Roy's Meri Pyaari Bindu earlier this year, continued to play a writer in Ashwini Iyer Tiwari's Bareilly Ki Barfi. However, that film steered clear of any sexual innuendos or references to sexual taboos.

But he more than made up for it in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Khurrana played Mudit, a young man suffering from erectile dysfunction. While he ceased to be the unrequited lover of his past two outings, his love life remained devoid of sexual intercourse. But the issue was dealt with a good balance of humour and sensitivity.

From his wife, played by Bhumi Pednekar, to his prospective mother-in-law, played by Seema Pahwa, all the characters empathised with Khurrana's character and tried to address his disorder through demonstrative metaphors in Hindi, that were not only hilarious but also unbelievable accurate.

Whether it was the "ali baba ki gufa" analogy or the "chhota bhai" metaphor, the nuanced use of Hindi language ensured that words like 'vagina', 'intercourse' and 'penis' do not even make it to the script that revolves around erectile dysfunction. Since these words are still unpalatable (unjustly so) to a large number of people, especially from the Hindi-speaking North India belt, Hindi metaphors or alankars made for a fairly smart medium to convey the message.

Still from Shubh Mangal Saavdhan

Bhumi Pednekar and Ayushmann Khurrana in a still from Shubh Mangal Saavdhan. Twitter @Ayushmann_K

Also, unlike Lipstick Under My Burkha which boasted of a more organised pulp fictionish Hindi, the language used in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan was colloquial. Double entendres were used quite organically, not as a display of showmanship, but in order not to alienate or creep out the Hindi-speaking masses.

This Hindi Diwas, the language reassumes its role of a bridge between the masses and the classes, given the wide reach it managed to ensure to films like Lipstick Under My Burkha and Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, which dared to talk about sex. While their intent may not have been to paint a rosy picture, what they did manage to achieve was to lend reassurance to every Rosie or Mudit of the Hindi-speaking majority, and make sure that their bedroom stories are heard out loud.