GANDHI CLASS | Movies

Don’t miss the kiss

French kissing may soon have to give way to elaborate desi pecks

Films create magic but they can also erase the magical when they convert imagination into brute perception. This is best exemplified by the act of kissing in films. Much is invested in it, particularly in Hollywood films. Whether it’s a romance or an adventure or even a film about alien invasion, the film’s consummation is often through a kissing scene. What is this obsession about kissing in popular Hollywood films?

At least kissing is not alien to that audience. Kissing in public is a part of their daily life. You see people taking a quick moment to kiss as they exit the movies. Or when they shop in the mall or stroll the streets, almost as if they have to constantly keep performing ‘this thing called love’. Some might even say that it seems like a desperate attempt to make sure their love is still on track, afraid that if they didn’t kiss enough (or keep saying ‘I love you’), their love might just evaporate.

Kissing for many cultures is not completely a private act. Rather, it is an acceptable social act with many different meanings. So perhaps Hollywood is obsessed about kissing scenes because it continues onscreen an accepted public cultural practice, thus establishing a connection with the audience.

Just do it

But what about our country? How should we respond to kissing in movies given that kissing in public is an uncommon sight? How should children respond to seeing an onscreen kiss when they don’t see their parents even holding hands in front of them? When the idea of the physical is so well hidden from them, how would we expect them to respond to these scenes in a movie?

People often say that the Indian audience is more comfortable watching kissing in English movies. Perhaps this is because they can then see it as a package deal of something called Western culture and continue to act as if it’s something they would never do. Remember those films showing two birds pecking at each other or two roses slowly blooming in proximity as visual metaphors for kissing?

But things are changing. Although kissing has been part of Hindi films almost from the beginning, it has been sporadic and news-grabbing. But kissing is becoming more matter-of-fact and mainstream today. When our actors do it, audiences look at the screen not just with curiosity but also with a little bit of pride: “Haan ji, we can also do it.” When Deepika kisses Ranbir in Tamasha, it is as if they are watching the secret life of their neighbour’s truant daughter.

Up close

Like everything else in cinema, there is a good amount of make-believe to kissing too. The aesthetic of showing it needs technical innovation because filming a kiss is not just a matter of showing two faces mashing each other.

From a proper peck to a liplock, from a light brush to tongue wrestling, actors have to do muscular contortions to make kissing look more appealing on the screen. Because, face it, there is little that’s appealing in watching two people kiss in front of your eyes. It is boring, makes you worry about what body fluids are getting transferred, whether the braces will cut the partner’s tongue, when the dental filling will fall off, or whether they have brushed before the kiss. It is cinema that makes kissing seem more exciting and more close-up than it is in real life.

It is surprising that despite the rampant kissing in movies, it will still be extremely difficult to have a live performance of a play or a dance in India where there is onstage kissing. Why is it acceptable to promote kissing in films but not on stage? It is almost as if it is fine to have a cartoon version of kissing, as in films, but not the real thing on stage or in the public domain.

Films have indeed saved the act of kissing and made it into an art of love. They have taken the private and made it into a reproducible public product. A kiss is a wonderful thing to market because like all great products it only leads to more desire.

Now that serious kissing is making a more frequent appearance in Indian films, it is only a matter of time before we see more public exhibitions of kissing. Perhaps this ‘revolution’ will finally overthrow the hegemony of the much-hyped French kissing and lead to new types of ‘Indian kissing’. Bisi bisi kiss from Karnataka, machan kiss from Tamil Nadu, Patiala-peg kiss from Punjab, and kem cho kiss from Gujarat. If we run out of ideas, we can always go back to the Kama Sutra which lists many types of kisses such as the touching kiss, the pressing kiss, the exciting kiss, the tight kiss, the moderate kiss, and so on.

Get ready, Hollywood, here we come.

The writer is a professor of philosophy at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 2:00:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/dont-miss-the-kiss/article18052091.ece

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