If you think that bold scenes especially ones that have a liplock in it, is a new trend in Indian movies then you are wrong. A kissing scene was first seen in 1933! That was over 80 years ago! Movies with audio debuted in 1931 in India and for a kissing scene to pop up 2 years later caused quite a controversy. In 1926, the first movie with dialogues released in abroad and Indian movies ventured into it after 5 immediate years!
The movie that held this controversial kissing scene is called Karma. It starred Devika Rani and Himanshu Rai. Devika hailed from a very distinguished family. She was the great grand-niece of the Nobel Prize winner, Rabindranath Tagore and the daughter of Col. M N Chaudhuri who was the first Indian Surgeon General of Madras. Devika married Himanshu in 1929 and they made the movie Karma under Rai’s historical production house, Bombay Talkies.
Karma was the first movie that was released in London and the British audience loved it. It was also the first ever movie that was made in English instead of Hindi. This was the first movie that Devika and Himanshu starred in together and it was also their last. In today’s world, international premieres and cross-cultural films are an everyday occurrence so we must appreciate how difficult it must have been back then to do all this, especially with the film industry at such a tender age.
The film did superbly well in England. People found the movie enticing with its exotic location, palaces, kings and queens, holy men and the different animals. Because the film did so well in England, Indians also went to see it out of curiosity and pride. However, the 4 minute long kissing scene caused quite a stir in India. It had tongues wagging and some people irked over it. Fortunately, the film made it pass the censor board due to the board being more wary of nationalist, anti-Raj feelings than it was of the kiss.
Devika and Himanshu were married by the time they made the movie; it was still a bold and brave step on their part. Hindi films at that time didn’t show a lot of the physical aspect of lovers. There were occasional hand holding, but it was limited to that and the rest was left to the imagination of the audience. Although, they received some backlash for the kiss, it was definitely a step that brought some forward thinking into Indian cinema. Not only that, it also paved the way for a broader audience.It was the vision of Himanshu Rai to cater Indian Cinema to the plates of a larger audience!
Another thing to consider is the political context of the time. The movie is essentially a love story between a Prince and a Princess’. They were from neighboring towns. Their love was not accepted by the Princess’ people because the Princess was a modern, forward thinking woman while the Prince’s father was not and the people felt that if the Princess married the Prince, the King would control and influence the Princess and prevent her from bringing about change that would help them and people of the kingdom set out in preventing this marriage by wanting to assassinate the Prince.
The question remains, did the British fear that there would be backlash against the Raj with the growing discontent of Indians towards their rule?
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Author: Rahmina C.