Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Gere-Shetty smooch, Yesudas, Ash marriage, Salman-Katrina, Saif Ali Khan…

This week’s hottest news is the Shilpa Shetty-Richard Gere smooch that has taken the sheen off the Aishwarya Rai-Abhishek Bachchan wedding on April 20. And, the best part is, a playful gesture has been blown out of proportion by India’s self-styled moral-keepers.

Richard Gere kissing Shilpa Shetty
When Hollywood actor Gere kissed Bollywood star Shetty on her cheeks during a recent AIDS awareness (April 16 2007) campaign in New Delhi it seemed like the most harmless of exchanges. But India’s fundamental Hindu political organisations were so irked by what they called public display of private passion that they went on the rampage, burning effigies of Richard and Shilpa, and storming the film set of Anurag Basu’s “Metro” in Mumbai, where the actress was working.

Gere, a renowned Indophile and devotee of the Dalai Lama, was hosting the event for the Heroes Project, a charitable organisation he founded in 2004 to tackle AIDS, which now affects five million Indians.

An entertainer to the core, Richard was merely trying to communicate to the audience of largely semi-illiterate truck drivers by re-enacting a scene from his hit 2004 ballroom dancing drama, “Shall We Dance”, first made in Japanese with a different group of actors. To amuse the crowd, Gere, who does not speak Hindi, thought up of an impromptu Bollywood style sing-and-smooch skit on the stage he was sharing with Shetty.

Richard, who came into the Indian cinema audiences’ radar with his 1982 “An Officer and a Gentleman”, followed by his still more appealing 1990 “Pretty Woman”, has been slapped with a legal case and told to leave the country by organisations, such as the Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, who have in recent years taken upon themselves the role of a moral-brigade.

Strangely, it only when fantasy spills out of the screen that India’s saffron-robed holier-than-though crowd emerges on a punishing-vendetta spree. Kissing may still be rare in Indian cinema, but it is not new. Smoochers go right back to the 1930s, while recent releases like “Khwaish” went to town with an ad slogan that talked about the movie’s 17 lip-locks. But the pious rebels looked the other way here, and so do they when scantily clad women thrust their pelvis in vulgar motions or dialogues drip with double-meanings, often sexist and demeaning to women.

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Does music have any religion? If you ask this question to those who run the famous Guruvayur Temple in Kerala, they will say “yes”. But the thousands of fans who adore renowned playback singer K.J. Yesudas and his renderings will vehemently disagree with the temple view. Ironically, Yesudas (which means servant of Jesus), a national-award winning singer, has sung the most number of his devotional songs to Guruvayurappan, the deity of the temple. While purists argue that if a non-Hindu enters the temple, it has to undergo an elaborate purification process, Kerala’s Minister for Religious Places, G. Sudhakaran, feels that the holy shrine must be open to all devotees irrespective of their faith. Yesudas has kept quiet, perhaps waiting for divine intervention.

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As I write this column, the three-day Aishwarya Rai-Abhishek Bachchan marriage extravaganza has begun with “Sangeet” (Wednesday, April 18 2007). The “Sangeet” will be a straight lift from a Bollywood production set with mirrors, huge pillars and song-and-dance performances by the groom’s best friends, including Sikander Kher and Goldie Behl. It is quite possible that Hrithik Roshan may also shake his legs, and the bridal couple themselves are set to dance their once-hit number, “Kajra Re..” The April 19 “Mehendi Ceremony” will be a sober affair with the henna being flown in from Rajasthan. The actual wedding will take place on April 20, considered an auspicious day for any beginning. Ash and Abhi have put off their honeymoon because, I am told, his grandmother, Teji Bachchan, is seriously ill.

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The Salaman Khan-Katrina Kaif intended marriage on April 18 did not materialise. I was told that Khan wanted to beat his former flame to the altar by getting wed a couple of days before Aishwarya’s nuptials. But Katrina put her foot down, and said that she cannot think of anything else now but her career. Mr Khan is probably wondering why he took this rash step of telling the world that he would beat Ms Rai to the wedding pole.

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Tailpiece: I saw a photograph of actor Saif Ali Khan with his former wife, Amrita Singh, and children. It appears perfect. The family seems happy and content. This is probably what Saif, now that he has officially split with his Italian girlfriend, Rosa, meant when he rued that he missed “companionship and romance”. He has shifted to his new home in a Mumbai suburb, and has said that it is open and planned for his new love. Would that be Amrita?

(Webposted April 18 2007)