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How Biswajeet brought on India's Kissing Crisis

Memsaab in a recent post about film Jaal (1967) asks: Is Biswajeet finally Cool?

I think he always tried a bit too hard to be cool. The post made me reach out for my trash can trash can and digg up this monstrosity.

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The story goes like this: During the shooting of a film called Anjana Safar (1969) a newcomer named Rekha was slyly kissed by Biswajeet. The scene was captured on camera The film ran into censor troubles, took almost ten years to complete and was finally released as Do Shikari (1979). Meanwhile, the 'kiss scene' was apparently already famous because it made it to the cover of year 1969 Asian edition of Life Magazine, probably for the story 'India's Kissing Crisis' based on hysteria brought forth by release of Khosla Committee Report that claimed "kissing or nudity can't be banned unless a court of law judges it obscene." [Outlook article from 2001].


“No court of law will hold that a kiss by itself, irrespective of the circumstances in which it takes place or the individuals between whom it is exchanged, is indecent or immoral. In the same way, nudity of the human form may or may not be indecent. If there is, for instance, a brief shot of a woman undressing and entering a bathing pool, as in the film The Visit, no suspicion of indecency or immorality attaches to the shot which is relevant to the story. On the other hand, there are many scenes of cabaret performances or striptease sequences in Indian as well as foreign film which are obviously introduced in order to titillate the senses and thus make the film commercially saleable. Many of these scenes would be declared obscene even by the most liberal-minded judges."~ the report as cited by A.G. Noorani in essay Cesorship and State. Sep. 10-23, 2011, Frontline. The references in the report, 'The Visit', cabaret, already seem a bit dated and as extract seems a distortion, word 'suspicion' and 'obviously' stand out sore.

'India's Kissing Crisis' is not available online, but as we can see is still often cited in articles about Indians exercising their orbicularis oris for camera - an in-action still much debated with intellectual vigour in India. It was cited in an article titled 'Is Sex Ok?' [India Today, 2002, cscsarchive.org]. She was running high fever last night, I thought she was going to die, but I guess she is going to be okay soon. There is a curious thing to these Censorship articles in India, most of them come in waves, usually separated by a decade or so. I came across similar articles dated from around 1992-93, 1984-1985, 1972-1974. Same arguments, same counter-points. In fact later ones post 80s at times are almost verbatim replication of old data. But somehow with each replication, it seems information somehow kept getting lost. Which brings me back to the photograph posted here. It now certain that the 'study censor' wave started with 'India's Kissing Crisis'of 1969 brought into the Indian drawing rooms by the image of Biswajeet kissing Rekha, and maybe the accompanying exploitation trivia. The odd thing is that the image posted here is now passed off as the 'Biswajeet-Rekha Kiss'. The image posted here is a scan from year 1975 issue of Film Mirror. The byline is obviously a gimmick. Rekha was already a star by then, and given the nature of that magazine, they would have named her, would have satisfied their million readers a lot more. The funny thing is there is hardly any suspicion of indecency or immorality oozing from that image. Still maybe even a most liberal-minded judge would hold it guilty because of the way a story was spun around it to titillation the massed and to make the story saleable.

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Comments

  1. A brilliantly researched and well presented post after a long time. Censorship has always been a debated area in Indian cinema, specially "the kissing controversy". M. Madhava Prasad has a very interesting theory on this in his "Ideology of the Hindi Film: A Historical Construction". He explains why the kiss that seals the Christian marriage becomes problematic for the Indian State. I hope you look into it, if you already haven't. Would love to know your views on that. But congrats for posting this one, specially for taking the Biswajeet post form memsaab into a more debated and much more interesting terrain of Indian cinema.

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  2. I have been thinking of picking up M. Madhava Prasad's work. Will try to get my hands on that book. And I think I will do a couple of more posts on the topic as I am sitting on some interesting material from the era when these censor issues were first raised in India. And I am not just interested in the questions that asked and answered but the manner in they were asked and presented.

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  3. I think you can take a look at the Report of the Indian Cinematograph Committee 1927-1928 (also known as the Rangachariar Committee Report, Report of the Film Enquiry Committee 1951 (also known as the Patil Committee Report) and the Report of the Enquiry Committee on Film Censorship 1968-1969 (also known as the Khosla Committee Report.Especially the evidence section. Censorship was a much debated issue from the days of the British rule itself. In fact that somehow contributes to the double standards of the censorship laws.But it's great to have more posts on this issue. We're working on the Hindu Marriage Act and its conversation with Bengali cinema at the Media Lab. Would love to share with you if you visit Kolkata sometime. Meanwhile, keep posting!

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  4. I have read them in parts. I try and post some articles from 1930s-40s published in FilmIndia on the subject (I thank Memsaab for sharing them with me). And if ever visit Kolkata, Media Lab I will check out (I do check it online sometimes). Thanks! And I like the thought of Hindu Marriage Act and its conversation with Bengali Cinema.

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