I was much amused by Red Room's note saying that one should "keep it clean". I see it as unintended humour, or perhaps a health advisory! This post was written in January.
I am adding it to the week's topic only to watch it swim among the pool of perspectives on the subject, although it is a broad brushstroke - no favourite sex scene here, but the scene of sex scenes.
Plot or no plot, our bodies react to what we see. So, when film directors say that some sexually explicit scenes are not meant to titillate but are crucial to the plot, I wonder. People do not get intimate in the streets for a reason – it is about intimacy, and that is private.
Therefore, I do not understand why director David Fincher insisted that he will not permit any cuts in his film The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo recommended by the Indian censor board. The suggestion was to blur bare bottoms and bare breasts.
When access to varied forms of media is easy, one might question such prudery. This is precisely the point. Sexuality titillates and there is nothing that would make it so crucial to the story. People are watching YouTube videos of real people being battered and raped. It is all live streaming. Even if we find it squeamish, our brains are partitioned to ‘enjoy’ what is going on without endorsing it.
Is it cultural? To an extent. But even in the more open societies, one cannot assume that love-making is necessarily seen in context and not just for pleasure. Cinema is in a sense also a tactile medium, besides addressing the sensory stimuli of sight and sound. It transfers the smells to us, especially if we are watching it in an auditorium with others. Taste is about dry throats, salivating salvation.
One of the most disturbing rape scenes I have watched did not show anything. It was in a Hindi film, Ghar. It relied purely on one piercing sound and the aftermath was in the eyes. Yet, one could feel the terror.
For someone who talks about several sexually related subjects, I do get uncomfortable watching explicit scenes. It could be partly a sense of shame that is ingrained in us, and also fear about one’s hormonal responses. There are beautiful sequences that build up like foreplay, but I want them to stop just short. Again, a comment I always recollect is when a Hindi film director, known for his light comedies and subtle romances, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, was asked why he did not show bedroom scenes in his films, he said something to the effect that he left the room when his characters made love.
There has been a departure and we have some hardcore films. Unfortunately, however hard they try, they look self-conscious. I don’t see much ‘realistic’ difference in the deliciously simulated Bollywood kiss that showed two flowers meeting and today’s lip licking and finger sucking. Both are merely conveying something. And for those who go on and on about the Kama Sutra and how free we were, well it was written by Vatsyayana, a celibate, and he used his imagination.
Sexuality in contemporary cinema does not leave much to the imagination, although in other aspects there are several nuances it lets us explore.
Does one say the same about books? Can we not get turned on by a piece of writing? Of course.
I had read an account by a person I respect a lot. She spoke about her personal experience with date rape. If the idea was to display the gruesomeness, it did not work. The graphic details of being roughed up, being pushed, while she was in her senses and in fact continued talking to the man, and then the assault from the back just made it exciting in a macabre sort of way. I speak here as a woman who has and will raise my voice against such violence and abuse. But I cannot deny that reading the account did not nauseate me; it had the opposite effect. Perhaps too much empathy makes one feel it right in the bones as well as the flesh.
Why was it so? Because, she did not convey any hatred towards what was happening while it was happening. It was later that she realised that it was an intrusion. This is not to justify my response, which might for all you know have been similar had I watched animals on Discovery Channel. What I am saying is that sex in any form is titillating, whatever be the motive.
Some of my poetry has been described as ‘raw’. It comes from rawness, whatever other emotions go along with it. Obviously, the potency registers more sharply than the purging. But then, tears too are wet.
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Update: I would like to add that ‘pure’ pornography is a niche market and cannot be viewed in the same manner. My views on it are different because it is stacked on a separate counter. An earlier article: Civilise society, add a dash of porn