Free Press Journal

Prem Rog to Lust Stories! When Indian cinema stepped into taboo land

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Lust Stories has joined the list of movies that made headlines, because of the unorthodox topics it conveys through the medium of cinema. PREEJA ARAVIND takes a look at other such films which dealt with unsaid subjects

Four directors tell four different stories about women and their sexual needs in ‘Lust Stories‘ that was released on Netflix last week. The film has the internet divided; critics love to hate it, while others are showing praises on it. What’s more, the ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’ song by Lata Mangeshkar picturised on a masturbation scene has angered another segment. But, ‘Lust Stories’ is just one of the many such movies that have touched upon unconventional, and at times taboo subjects. Lesbian relations, widow remarriage, prolonged sexual abuse in families, sex workers, AIDS — these are some of the few topics that have been made into films over the past decades in India. Needless to say, they found a lot of haters, despite critical acclaim. Here is a list of such unconventional films:

Lipstick Under My BurkhaThe Central Board of Film Certification initially denied this 2017 film a releasing certification stating, ‘contagious sexual scenes, abusive words and audio pornography’. However, the movie was released with an ‘A’ Certificate after voluntary cuts suggested by directed Alankrita Srivastava. This critically acclaimed film touched upon women’s sexuality in India.


UN-FreedomBold topics such as Islamophobia, homophobia and extremism were touched upon through graphic violence in this 2014 movie starring big names such as Victor Banerjee and Adil Hussain. The movie did not see a theatre release in India, despite an Examining Committee denying a certificate for the movie without any cuts.

FireThe first of the Elements trilogy by Deepa Mehta, the 1996 film starred Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das in leading roles. Loosely based on Ismat Chugtai’s short story Lihaaf, Fire was one of the first mainstream Bollywood films to talk of homosexuality. To protest the release of the film, several theatres in India were vandalised by right-wing parties.

WaterThe last of the Elements trilogy by Deepa Mehta, this 2005 film was banned from screening in India. Ironically, Water — depicting ostracisation of widows in certain parts of India — was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 79th Academy Awards. Even during filming, the movie ran into trouble — in Varanasi, an angry mob threw some of the equipment into river Ganga.

Prem RogOne of the first movies in India, albeit in a typical Bollywood masala fashion, to talk of widow remarriage. Directed and produced by the legendary Raj Kapoor, the film released in July 1982 was a runaway success — its songs are even today hummed as Hindi classics. Rishi Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Padmini Kolhapure star in this award-winning film.

Kya Kehna movie that dealt with the taboo subjects of pre-marital sex and pregnancy-out-of-wedlock in India, this movie was a turning point in Preity Zinta’s career. Even though critics were not too happy with this 2000 film, it was a box office success and even got Preity Zinta a best actress nomination at the 46th Filmfare Awards, for her portrayal of the unwed mother Priya Bakshi.

My Brother NikhilThough it was not the first film to talk about AIDS and how HIV-positive people are treated in India, My Brother Nikhil, released in 2005, was the first with original content for the movie. Based on the true story of Dominic d’Souza, the first known AIDS patient in Goa, this movie has some stalwart performances by Juhi Chawla, Sanjay Suri and Purab Kohli.

Chandni BarWinner of four National Awards, and an acclaimed hit, this 2004 movie is a gritty look into crime, prostitution and dance bars in Mumbai. The film directed by Madhur Bhandarkar and released input Tabu in the limelight for her nuanced performance of hapless dance bar girl, Mumtaz. Tabu won the National Award among several others for her performance.

AasthaAfter Umrao Jaan, this 1997 film was where Rekha the actor emerged again. Basu Bhattacharya’s final film deals with a very unconventional topic of a woman’s exploration of her sexuality outside of marriage. Rekha portrays a homely housewife, who enticed by her desire for material comforts descends into the scary web of prostitution.

MandiThis critically-acclaimed and the award-winning film was directed by Shyam Benegal with Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Kulbushan Kharbanda in pivotal roles. Based on a short story by Ghulam Abbas, this 1983 film about politics of prostitution has some of the best Urdu poetry by stalwarts such as Mir Taqi Mir, Bahadur Shah Zafar and Makhdoom Mohiuddin.

Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without WomenThe movie was released in 2003 and explored the consequences of female infanticide. Set in a rural future where women are non-existent as a result of girl children being killed — a village full of men are desperate for wives. One woman, played by Tulip Joshi, is forced into polyandry because of this gender imbalance.