The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bollywood touches new subject with old taboo

Mumbai, Nov. 18: Too hot to handle' Some new leela' Or a freaky chakra'

None of the above. For suddenly, the older woman-younger man theme is no longer wink-wink-nudge-nudge, but a commonplace subject making an appearance in every film.

After Dil Chahta Hai and Ek Chhotisi Love Story, the same theme has raised its head in Somnath Sen’s Leela. There are at least two films on the floor, ad man V.N. Prakash’s Freaky Chakra and Kalpana Lajmi’s Kyon', on the subject. (Dimple Kapadia and Deepti Naval seem to be the popular actresses of the genre — Kapadia plays the “older woman” in both Dil Chahta Hai and Leela, while Naval plays the same in Freaky Chakra and makes an appearance in Leela. Soni Razdan plays the golden oldie in Lajmi’s Kyon')

Not films alone. Zee TV is about to air a new serial, Astitva, on the same theme, while a play titled Two Hot to Handle was staged by actress Mahabanoo Kotwal’s group at the Prithvi Festival in the city this week.

Whatever is happening' Filmmakers blame it on the changing tastes of the Indian audience, who are no longer so Indian.

Says Somnath Sen, who directed Leela: “I based (the feeling that my film would work) on my perception of the changing Indian audience — which has matured and become very sophisticated. Partly due to the world being available in their living rooms via cable, partly due to changing times.”

But everyone else is not convinced that this is the sole explanation or the films are serious attempts to explore an area of relationship that has hardly been talked about in Indian popular culture (though Radha was supposed to be older than Krishna, and married, too).

Filmmaker Aruna Raje agrees that such films are a response to a wider audience of Indian films. With it, every filmmaker is looking for a novel idea.

But Raje, who made Rihaee, a film that was ahead of its time because of its subject — married women, neglected by their husbands, seeking sexual fulfilment with other men — feels that the older-woman theme loses its strength in adapting to the moral and sexual hypocrisies of the Indian society. The audience will be titillated, but not challenged with a very important issue.

“Sexuality is an important part of these relationships. But where is the sexuality in a film like Dil Chahta Hai' The young man’s love for Dimple Kapadia is platonic, ideal and she dies anyway. It takes courage to address sexuality,” says Raje. “And in Chhotisi, they got too muddle-headed,” she adds. Leela, however, has a “love scene” that allows the relationship between Dimple, a woman searching for her identity, and her young lover, a man searching for his, come to its logical conclusion.

According to women’s activist Chainika Shah, however, even that is not satisfactory, because even this film reinforces the status quo regarding man-woman relationships.

“Such films are built on a dominant narrative — men and boys will always talk of the young boy’s initiation into sexuality through an older woman and these films are depicting it,” says Shah. “But neither Leela nor Dil Chahta Hai disturb the status quo. They create an ‘acceptable kind of deviance’ at best,” she says.

Shah also feels that such a theme comes in handy to portray the sexuality of a woman in the Indian society, which is still not open to a direct portrayal of a girl’s desires, except in song sequences or fantasy scenes.

Filmmaker-activist Chhandita Mukherjee puts an even more sinister motive to the films. “Such films look at the older woman as a market. Increasingly as the older woman makes more financial decisions, it would pay off to show her as glamorous and desirable,” she says.

No wonder, more often than not the older woman is Dimple Kapadia.

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