The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Stomach for southern spice but lip-lock too hot
- Morality debate rages in Chennai after police crack down on hotel over kissing in public

Chennai, Oct. 1: Scantily-clad models and gyrating heroines on newspaper pages and the TV screen are fine but kissing at a private party is not.

This message now comes out of Chennai where a hotel has had its bar licence suspended for 90 days after a couple of Tamil dailies this week published pictures of guests hugging and smooching at a party there.

Some Calcutta nightclubs said they allowed kissing as long as it was voluntary and no fellow customer objected. But the “scandal” at The Park has had Chennai ' where actor Kushboo faced a backlash for appearing to condone premarital sex in an interview ' in the throes of moral outrage.

Most support police commissioner R. Nataraj who, as he slapped the bar licence suspension, said the goings-on at the party had “exceeded the limits” of decency. The hotel management has moved Madras High Court but has been directed to keep its bar closed till the petition is disposed of. The court had yesterday asked the hotel not to take in guests in its rooms either, but today revoked that order.

The chorus of condemnation has drowned out the stray voices ' including that of an identified guest at the party 'which argue the photographer’s action was an “intrusion into the invitees’ private space”.

But amid rumours that those photographed might be arrested, many were questioning whether the party could be considered “private” at all.

“If they wanted a private celebration, they should have kept it confined to their homes. Why come to a hotel,” asked Srijyothi, a college teacher in her 20s.

Some in the media swear that the pictures were snapped not by a Page 3 photographer but a “socially conscious” guest at the party who wanted to “expose the licentiousness that has crept into Chennai nightlife of late”.

“Of late” means the past couple of years, during which many bars and hotels have mushroomed in the city, catering mainly to the young crowd from the booming call-centre and infotech industries.

A public relations manager, who didn’t want to be named, scoffed at the argument that IT executives need “more liberalised” forms of entertainment and relaxation. “In what way is a software engineer more tense in his job than a postal clerk,” he asked.

This clash between a conservative and a globalised India was evident last month when an Ajmer court fined an Israeli couple Rs 1,000 for kissing at Pushkar Ghat after they had married in accordance with Hindu rites. The court, hearing a petition from the priests, ruled the tourists had “committed an act of indecency”.

Tamil Nadu SFI secretary Selva is among the few who questioned the police action. “There should be no moral policing,” he said. “We must evolve a more democratic culture where the youth can discuss issues relating to sex in a healthy manner.”

After all, the papers and magazines are full of semi-nude pictures and private Tamil TV channels are beaming film songs with suggestive lyrics, accompanied by pictures that border on soft-porn, he argued.

Schoolteacher Srijyothi dismissed the argument saying reel and real life “cannot be linked”.

Actor Kushboo found this out the hard way after raising a storm of protests by saying it was all right for women to have pre-marital sex if they take precautions against disease and pregnancy. Sued and attacked for “denigrating Tamil women”, she was forced to retract and apologise.

Calcutta took a different view. “The whole idea of coming to a night club is to relax and have a good time,” said a spokesperson for B.E.D on Ballygunge Circular Road. “If a couple hold hands or kiss we do not see it as indecent. But we must be sure that the people around are not complaining.”

“Holding hands and dancing close to each other is all right, but we don’t allow kissing at Prince of Cal,” said Kanishka Mazumdar, CEO, Sourav’s: The Food Pavilion.

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