The History of Kissing in Bollywood: Timeline of a Taboo

Satyam Shivan Sundaram kiss Shashi Kapoor Zeenat Aman

Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman kiss each other and a damp dupatta in Satyam Shivan Sundaram (1977).

Kissing in Bollywood films has been a volatile subject, a heated source of international ridicule and shame, for almost 100 years.  This blog post is likely to horrify just as many readers as it intrigues. What many people do not know is that the taboo of kissing in Hindi films has evolved so dramatically since the birth of film. In its early days, intimacy on-screen was not the heretical offense it later became–in fact, an appropriate diegetic display of affection was once standard fare in Hindi film! But a carefully constructed web of symbolic cinematography and allegorical imagery soon replaced the film industry’s brief encounter with physical romance. Instead generations of Indians grew up in a world where pretty treetops and flowers were more passionate than any human interaction could ever become. We created scores of young men and women like myself who get so uncomfortable when kissing appears on-screen if Indian parents are present, that we actually have to leave the room to relieve tension. And when I first saw Shashi Kapoor sell his soul kissing in a Satyam Shivam Sundaram, I felt my world had come to an end.

Why is there such hype around kissing in Hindi films? After all, we’re all modern citizens of the world, and certainly Indians are some of the most romantic. Kissing in Bollywood films has jumped the spectrum from as liberal as the French in the 1920s to a wave of conservatism brought by the 1950s and again a shift back toward cinema’s early lip-locking roots by the 1990s. We at Mr. and Mrs. 55 hope our descriptive timeline of this fascinating cause célèbre sheds light on this controversial impulse of nature we were all led to believe pure Indian film stars did not possess!

Kohra Waheeda Rehman kiss fish symbolism

Director Biren Nag cleverly cuts from a threatened kissing scene in Kohra (1964) between Waheeda Rehman and Biswajeet to two fish finishing what the married couple started.

1896: The Lumiere Brothers bring cinema to India with a showing at the Watson Hotel in Bombay.

1918: Cinematographic Act is first passed by the country’s legislative council.

This addresses the licensing of cinema houses and the certification of films declared suitable for public exhibition. Boards of Censors would be established within 2 years in all major Indian cities, based on the guidelines of the British Board of Film Censors.

1921: Bilat Ferat, a Bengali silent film directed by Dhirendra Nath Gunguli, displays intimate scenes and kissing galore.

Based on Mahabharata, the film is about two kings who are vying for same hermit’s daughter.

1922: The film Pati Bhakti showcases Lalita Pawar in a serious kiss.

She would later become known for her stock roles in the 1950s and 1960s as the hard-hitting conservative mother figure.

1929: Silent film A Throw of Dice an exciting kiss between actors Seeta Devi and Charu Roy.

1933: Devika Rani locked lips with her real life husband Himanshu Rai on screen in Karma.

The famous lip-lock took 4 minutes and remains the longest onscreen kiss to date.

Devika Rani Karma

Shocking, right? Silent film star Devika Rani kisses her hero like a champ in Karma (1933). I know, I know. Despite myself, I can’t help but feel really, really uncomfortable.

1952: Cinematograph Act is established, ruling on-screen kissing to be indecent.

The Supreme Court of India claims: “Film censorship becomes necessary because a film motivates thought and action and assures a high degree of attention and retention as compared to the printed word. The combination of act and speech, sight and sound in semi darkness of the theatre with elimination of all distracting ideas will have a strong impact on the minds of the viewers and can affect emotions. Therefore, it has as much potential for evil as it has for good and has an equal potential to instill or cultivate violent or bad behaviour. It cannot be equated with other modes of communication.”

1954: 13,000 Indian women of Delhi collect a petition to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that urges him to address the cinema’s wild potential to encourage “precocious sex habits.”

My question is, where were all the Indian men of Delhi?

“Films have an essential part to play in the modern world,” Nehru responded. “At the same time it is true that any powerful medium like motion pictures has a good effect and a bad effect. We have to take care therefore that we emphasise the good aspect of it.”

Incidentally, the biographical movie “The Indian Summer” in production a few years ago featured the story of Prime Minister Nehru during independence. The irony? The Information and broadcasting ministry wanted a scene featuring the kiss between Nehru and Edwina, wife of Lord Mountbatten, to be deleted. The film was ultimately shelved.

1964: The film Kohra displays a super awkward scene between a newlywed couple flirting with each other as wife Waheeda Rehman attempts to wake up her husband Biswajeet in the morning.

Several kisses are creatively implied. While the scene is actually filmed in the couple’s bedroom, two twin beds are shown just in case there could be any confusion.

1969: The song “Roop Tera Mastana” from film Aradhana becomes arguably the steamiest scene ever to hit the Hindi film industry.

See our English translation of “Roop Tera Mastana” for more! The Khosla Committee is established to inquire into the working of the existing procedures for the certification of films for public exhibition and related matters, focusing on the representation of sexuality saying:

“If, in telling the story it is logical, relevant or necessary to depict a passionate kiss or a nude human figure, there should be no question of excluding the shot, provided the theme is handled with delicacy and feeling, aiming at aesthetic expression and avoiding all suggestion of prurience or lasciviousness.”

Yet, many continued to find this attitude “un-Indian,” as the nation grappled with its increasingly important role in the global forum.

Bobby Rishi Kapoor Dimple kapadia kissing

Rishi Kapoor unexpectedly smooches Dimple Kapadia in Bobby (1973).

1973: Dimple Kapadia dresses in fewer items of clothing than ever seen on-screen before and kisses Rishi Kapoor in the film Bobby.

From bikini scenes by a pool, to lounging around the house with her bare midriff and a miniskirt, Dimple Kapadia was careful to leave nothing to the imagination.

1978: The film Satyam Shivam Sundaram showcases Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman locking lips in multiple scenes.

Shashi Kapoor eventually jumps off the kissing deep-end in Merchant-Ivory films becoming known as the Bollywood actor with no boundaries!

1988: Gulzar’s Libaas is banned by the Indian Censor Board and was not released in India until 2014.

The film starring Shabana Azmi and Naseerudin Shah centers on Indian couples having extra-marital relationships. The film was critically acclaimed around the world, but was not allowed a showing for almost 30 years in the country of its origin.

I’m sure the Censor Board’s decision to ban this film prevented tons of men and women from cheating on each other…umm, not.

1996: Raja Hindustani features an awkward minute-long kiss between Amir Khan and Karishma Kapoor.

I still recall the awkwardness of that scene when first seeing this film with my family. Oh, my scarred childhood.

2004: Sharmila Tagore becomes Chair of the Central Board of Film Certification (until 2011).

You might think that would tame things down again, but she subsequently allows all kinds of wildness:

“We see ourselves as more of a certification body than just censor board. We are not into moral policing; we follow a middle path. There are certain things we let go, as we have to be a little more tolerant and mature. Times are changing and we have to change with it.”

Under her watch, kissing in Hindi films hits the jackpot.

“I do believe in censorship and I do believe in freedom of expression, but at the same time there has to be a reasonable restriction. You really can’t go back; the change of being liberal is here to stay for a longer time,” she added.

2005: Rani Mukherjee and Amitabh Bachhan share a cross-generational kiss in the film Black

It’s as weird as you would imagine.

2008: A passionate kiss between Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan in the film Dhoom 2 was asked to be removed by Aishwarya’s father-in-law, Amitabh Bachhan.

After all, she was a married woman now, and that would just be the height of humiliation for her family, right???! Oh, the irony. Isn’t it 2008 already?

2010: Shah Rukh Khan who vowed never to kiss on-screen was “forced” to kiss Katrina Kaif in the film Jab Tak Hai Jaan.

Oh please, Shah Rukh. That didn’t exactly look like extortion to me.

2012: Bombay Talkies displays Bollywood’s first full-out gay kiss, and debuted at the Cannes Film Festival.

We totally love how this is finally making it to the mainstream and stereotypes are getting challenged in India! Thank you Karan Johar for having more guts than most Bollywood directors ever did.

Karan Johar gay kiss Bombay Talkies

Director Karan Johar featured a tender kiss between two men with lots of facial hair in his short segment in Bombay Talkies (2012).

My apologies in advance to all the aunties who were unable to finish their breakfasts because they stumbled across this post. Believe me, it hurts me as much as it hurts you.

One of the reasons we’ve been so out of touch the past few months is because of preparations for my wedding that took place 2 weeks ago! Mr. 55 gave a beautiful piano performance at the sangeet of “Lag Ja Gale” that would have you in tears. Many pictures are forthcoming, but you’ll be interested to note that in classic Bollywood tradition, not a single kiss was planned at the event! But we were tricked as soon after we stepped off the mandap by my husband’s groomsmen yelling in unison to “Kiss the bride!” It was a no-win situation! If we kissed, my Nani was right in the front row and would judge us so hard, but if we didn’t, our friends would think we had some kind of problem.

So we went for it. It was probably the most awkward thing I’ve ever done. Thank you old Bollywood films for making two otherwise completely normal Americans totally unprepared for a public display of affection at their own wedding.

And no, we won’t be posting any pictures of that special moment…for obvious reasons.

– Mrs. 55

 

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17 thoughts on “The History of Kissing in Bollywood: Timeline of a Taboo

  1. This was so long overdue… I never knew kissing had been around for so long in Hindi cinema. I am as shocked as you!!!!!

    • When we first started researching this topic, we were blown away! But I think the ebb and flow of the country’s depictions of physical love in film reveals something quite fascinating in itself!

  2. Satyam Shivan Sundaram ……one of my favorite films…despite the fact that it was so shockingly sensual ( if not down right sexual)!

  3. Congratulations and I am so very Glad you kissed your husband at your wedding.

    The outrage in India following Richard Gerri’s kissing Shilpa Shetty was stupid. It was a spontaneous act. The reaction from Hindu fundamentalists only served to diminish the great liberal tradition of the religion in the eyes of the Western world.

    • Thank you! I think the incident with Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty came at a transition point as well as Indian cinema had just begun to widely reopen the concept of physical affection on screen. It would have taken far longer for this to be reflected in the day to day ethics of society. Nonetheless, there were far more important news stories happening around the world, no doubt!

  4. Congrats on your wedding. Looking forward to the pics.
    What a wonderful post. Absolutely hit the nail on the head. Like you (and I’m about 20 years older than you) I grew up cringing if there was even a hint of intimacy (forget kissing) in HIndi movies. I cringed when I saw the Devika Rani photograph but was simultaneously blown away—wow! who knew.
    Thanks again for this great post.

  5. I must ask why there are no censors against the terrible violence in some films….as a a child of the sixties…I still believe it’s better to make love than to make war….

  6. Congrats to both of you and I wish you the very best for the years ahead…

    When Satyam Shivam Sundaram was released, there were riots on the streets of Calcutta after the premiere screenings. The film was seen as a threat to ‘Indian morality’ and the dilution of traditional cultural norms. The mobs actions were obviously wrong but their fears have certainly materialised considering how much things have changed in such a short timespan…

    • Wow, I had no idea the reaction to Satyam Shivam Sundaram was so violent (especially given the stories we had heard of the positive response among the younger crowd to a provocative film like Bobby). How things have changed indeed!

  7. Interesting post!! I had no idea about the film based on Nehru, or of Gulzar’s film.
    By the way the second last picture is from Sagar (Dimple’s comeback film in the early 80’s, after divorcing Rajesh Khanna), not Bobby, her first film.
    Of course I knew that Kissing wasn’t a taboo, till the 50’s, and of Devika Rani’s looooong kiss. No, it’s not shocking. They were young too, and more open minded than most modern day Indians.
    You forgot to mention the famous kiss between, then lovers, Raj Kapoor and Nargis, from either Anadz (1949) or Awara (1951), that was deleted, ’cause he was a married man, who was in love with Nargis, in real life too. (or something like that). And the numerous famous kissing scenes that involves Simi Garewal et al.

  8. I think Onir’s ‘I Am’ had a full on gay kiss a couple of years before Bombay Talkies. It was a really passionate one too, unlike the coy lip graze in the latter.

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