James Bond has the license to kill and thrill. He has the liberty to play with gadgets and girls. But not to kiss them, at least  not in India — where smooching and sex on screen are still taboo. Ironically, in a country which boasts of being the first to have had an elaborate treatise on sex like the Kamasutra, Bond’s kisses in his latest outing, Spectre, were either excised or mauled.

Daniel Craig as Bond in James Bond film Spectre

As one writer said with sarcasm, “who  needs a $250-million excuse, sinisterly named Spectre, to let Daniel Craig kiss Monica Bellucci or Léa Seydoux in between saving the world? India’s Salman Khan can do it in one-third the budget and without kissing, and with the standard song and dance too. He will also flaunt those six-packs, glistening gloriously with sweat – just as the fans ordered…”

Sam Mendes’ Spectre opened in India recently with two cuts ordered by the Central Board of Film Certification, and both pertained to kissing. The film was ordered to clip these two sequences by  a half, and one of them had  Monica Bellucci in it. It was a lip-lock scene with Bond’s Daniel Craig — and it was a very short one at that which got shorter after it was scissored. Indian fans of the Italian star were understandably livid.

Admittedly, the board’s squeamishness about sex is well known, and this has always left one wondering why something as beautiful and natural as love making is sneered at, even while liberally allowing the goriest of violence. Which Indian script writers and directors shamelessly copy from men like Hollywood’s Quentin Tarantino, renowned for sadistic stories.  Some of the Indian movies have orchestrated ferocity with blood creating patterns in the air to the beat of music.

However,  there was a time when Indian cinema did not shy away from the kiss. In the 1920s and the 1930s, Devika Rani — known as the queen of Bollywood — did kiss on the screen. This was freely allowed because India was  then under the British, and British censors had no problem with such show of affection.

But post-independence in the 1950s and the 1960s, Indian producers and directors felt that the best way to make big bucks at the box office was to make a kind of cinema that will be enjoyed by the whole family. So, we saw on the screen two doves pecking at each other or two flowers meeting in the air to convey that lovers were making love.

All this was fine, but how long could cinema indulge in such pretentiousness. So, along came men like Raj Kapoor, Feroze Khan and Aamir Khan who got the kiss flying in films such as Satyam Shivam Sundaram, Bobby, Dayavan and Raja Hindustani — to mention just four. When Bollywood hero Aamir Khan kissed Karishma Kapoor, it became a rage, and moviemakers realised that with  the number of young viewers growing, an atmosphere of free sex and liberalism was emerging.

But then there was always the government-appointed censors who could not be wished away. Most often, they said no to kissing and sex, even nudity. And now with the board being headed by  Pahlaj Nihalani, known for his conservative views,  the kiss has to give a miss.

Beyond all this is the crucial issue of film censorship, and several actors, directors and producers have been extremely critical of it. They have all been advocating that India must not have a censor board, but a rating system like the one followed in the US, the UK and so on. A movie can be rated 12-plus or 15-plus or 18-plus — according to its content. Leave the rest to the ticket-paying public, they aver.

At the moment, Indian films are categorised as A (for adults only), UA (under 18s must be accompanied by parents) and U (universal).  And there is obviously a clamour for U, because it will mean greater patronage. In fact, there have been cases of a producer bribing members of the board to clinch a U certificate, despite the adult content in his movie.

So, the chances of Indian cinema getting out of the censors’s clutches seem slim — and with sex and kiss imprisoned by moral interpretation, 007 has to be content with short kisses.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years. He now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and The Seoul Times.

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