Bollywood’s tryst with sex is known for being tumultuous. On the one hand, Indian society and cinema are incredibly repressed sexually with even the smallest hints of sexually explicit content being smothered by the infamous Censor Board; but on the other, some movies have managed a wide-release despite their completely wild, sexually unencumbered depictions. It is no secret that the Indian public is deeply fascinated by on-screen sex, with “Bollywood sex scenes” being frequently among the top “trending” national keyword searches.
Historically, Indian film and television has always shied away from showing candid and frank depictions of sex, which includes the willingness of actors to partake in them as well. Up until the late 2000s, sexual content in Bollywood was either decisively amoral in its portrayals – usually as rape and assault scenes – or completely sugarcoated with inane and slapstick jokes and innuendo-filled songs to increase their overall permissibility in society.
Whatever the intention for the public seeking out these NSFW videos, over the years some Bollywood scenes and movies have certainly delivered in terms of sexual expression. The problematic impact these films can have on the public are important to consider in a sociopolitical climate like India’s, given that they are rarely accompanied by sensible – or sensitive and nuanced – contexts. Nonetheless, in light of India’s recent porn ban and other state-sanctioned moral policing, we put together a list of India’s best mainstream “erotica” over the years, so you can challenge the culture of sexual stigma from home, one wild film at a time.
I. Maya Memsaab (1993)
Best remembered for its controversial nude scene – among the first in Hindi cinema – this film is based on Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. It stars Shah Rukh Khan, Farooq Shaikh and Deepa Sahi, and was one of the first to push the boundaries of sexual content with all the charms of old-school 90s glamour.
II. Aastha (1997)
Not only was this film visually progressive for its time, but also its groundbreaking narrative earned Rekha several awards for her role as a married-woman-turned-prostitute. Initially considered art house cinema, the commercial success of this film also starring Om Puri soon purported it to wide audiences. Its explicit love scenes were handled with surprising tact and make this a turn-of-the-century classic.
III. Ek Choti Si Love Story (2002)
Adapted from a Polish short film, ECSL is an intriguing story about a teenager’s love for an older neighbour. Starting Manisha Koirala and Ranvir Shorey, this film was controversial since its production, and the end result is certainly noteworthy. Striking visuals accompany the bold narrative of this film in a time where movies were only just opening to showing sexual overtones.
IV. Jism (2003)
Perhaps one of Bollywood’s wildest and most iconic couples, Bipasha Basu and John Abraham made for sizzling on-screen chemistry in this erotic thriller. Not only was this an instant hit with the Indian public, it was also Abraham’s debut film that gained him wide acclaim. The film challenges dominant ideas of society effortlessly breezily, keeping the movie steadily on India’s Top 100 Sexiest Movies list.
V. Girlfriend (2004)
We can’t say this was handled with the same romantic grace and sensitivity as we’d have liked, but this Amrita Arora and Isha Koppikar starrer was nonetheless one of many homoerotic films that brought front a non-traditional narrative to the big screen. Widely criticized for its show of lesbianism, this film certainly didn’t shy away from a thematically explicit plot.
VI. The Dirty Picture (2011)
Inspired by the life of Indian actress Silk Smitha, The Dirty Picture is a beautifully told story of a young village girl who runs away in search of fame, and ends up becoming one of South India’s most iconic sex symbols. With a spectacular performance by Vidya Balan, this movie has no shortage of erotic scenes paying homage to their muse. Watch it on Netflix here.
VII. B.A. Pass (2013)
Considered a Hindi neo-noir film, B.A. Pass gained a lot of traction in film festivals and commercial screens as well. The story features a young college student who turns into a male prostitute – territory largely not ventured into in any film industry. Based on the short story The Railway Aunty, this film is as wildly refreshing as it is, well, wild. Watch it on Netflix here.
VIII. Hunterr (2015)
Written and directed by Harshavardhan Kulkarni, this adult comedy film is certainly no intellectual cliffhanger, but is handled with tact and sensibility. Featuring Radhika Apte and Sai Tamhanker, this is the story of a self-confessed sex addict who eventually falls in love and wants to settle down. Hunterr is perhaps one of the raunchiest, yet not crass, flicks to hit the big screen - and you can watch it on Netflix here.
Other mentions: Kajraare (2010) and Hate Story (2012)
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