How will films shot in a post-COVID-19 world look like? It is the first thing we think of: No kissing and touching on screen. With new shooting guidelines being created, speculation is inching closer to reality. Shoots are about to begin—TV first, followed by web series’ and films. What happens to on screen romance, then? We will miss the passion and heat in such scenes as the kiss between Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh in Band Baaja Baarat (2010), and we don’t want to go back to the days when the touching of flowers were meant to imply a kiss. We thought it’ll be useful—and fun—to come up with instances from Indian cinema that prove that on-screen romance has nothing to do with physical contact, and show us the way ahead.
The Lunchbox (2013)
The whole of Ritesh Batra’s storied debut film is a portrait of loner love – which, in today’s world, would translate directly to quarantine love. The device of writing letters to one another in a modern world is impossibly old-school and romantic, but one that also allows the protagonists – Saajan (the late Irrfan) and Ila (Nimrat Kaur) – to connect on a plane that transcends physical intimacy. The shot of them coming the closest to meeting, where Saajan discretely sees Ila in person at a cafe and leaves, is a profound act of love: He knows, at that moment, that touching one another might break their little illusion; distance is the only way to maintain their chemistry.
The film might be about a crabby Bengali father, but the slow-burning trust developing between the daughter (Deepika Padukone) and their reluctant travel companion (Irrfan) plays out like a relationship in reverse – they virtually start out as a married couple, a curt touch-me-not air pervading the ill-tempered trip, with the male companion constantly at odds with his potential father-in-law, before the old man disappears and the two are seen playing badminton at the end (or beginning) of the film. The badminton scene – “the shuttlecock is in our court now” – has the depth of a kiss and the warmth of a familiar hug. They’ve already seen each other at their worst; it’s all uphill from here. – Rahul Desai
I think Hindi movies should go back to the fine tradition of expressing love purely through song. This can be done even in public and requires no touching as we’ve seen in a classic like “Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya” (Mughal-e-Azam, 1960) and countless later numbers like “Khilte Hain Gul Yahan” (Sharmilee, 1971), “Dard E Dil” (Karz, 1980) and more. All the flirting and longing is in the eyes. Which is often more effective at conveying intimacy than explicit scenes! – Anupama Chopra
When Devdas and Paro meet as adults for the first time in Devdas (2002)
This is a stunningly conceived scene because neither do the lovers see nor touch each other, and yet the ecstasy and possessiveness of first-love is palpable. Monty Sharma’s lilting background score, and that trailing shot following Paro running through the glass doors, establishes joy. Devdas capturing the bhawra in his hand, establishes jealousy. And of course, there’s the beauty of it all.
Jab Deep Jale Aana, Chitchor (1976)
Amol Palekar’s character is teaching Zarina Wahab’s character to sing. The late Basu Chatterjee revs up the charm here. Palekar’s decent glances fight the lustful gaze of Wahab. You get a sense of them as individuals, and also as perhaps-lovers. The music by Ravindra Jain aptly captions this budding affair; it’s so simple and charming. He first sings to her, then for her, and then finally, with her. – Prathyush Parasuraman
Mella Thirandhathu Kadhavu (1986) / Madhumati (1958)
I think songs are a great way to reinforce social distancing, especially the kind of songs I am talking about in this pair of films: where the female sings and her voice echoes around her small world in which the hero happens to find himself in. In Mella Thirandhathu Kadhavu, the song is “Kuzhaloodhum kannanukku”. In Madhumati, it’s “Aa ja re, pardesi”. Both times, the distance adds to the relationship, because inaccessibility results in an element of intrigue.
Can a wedding night scene be filmed without the couple touching each other? Apparently, yes. Apu is forcibly married off to Aparna, and he’s in full-on angst about the happening. Will she able to live with his dreams? Does she even know him? Will she be okay with a life of poverty? They’re on either side of the bed: it could almost be a COVID-era wedding night sequence. There’s no touching at all.
Gunga Jumna (1961)
Again, a song. This time, it’s post-coital, the morning after the wedding night. Dhanno — outside — discovers an earring is missing, and smiles at the memory of the night. Gunga is still in bed. He turns and we find the ornament hooked to the back of his kurta. Hence the words of the number: Dhoondho re sajna more kaan ka bala, let’s see you find my earring. She sings the whole song by herself — he appears only in the end. Yet, given what happened, what occasioned the song, it’s about both of them. It’s the mainstream equivalent of the Apur Sansar scene where Apu finds Aparna’s hairpin tucked between their pillows, and the contrast is at once beautiful and illuminating about the many modes of our movie-making. – Baradwaj Rangan
Hasee Toh Phasee (2014)
In this odd-ball romance of a girl high on science, substance and life who is not above stealing and forgery, and a boy who is yet to figure his place in the universe, one scene establishes the deep bond they’ll go on to share. No one really knows why Meeta (Parineeti Chopra) is the person she is. But, Nikhil (Sidharth Malhotra) gets her. He locks her up in a room when she’s not supposed to be seen by her father at an event, and tells her to ‘hold it’ in case she needs to use the rest room. He returns, after having forgotten about her, to find her curled in a corner wearing a borrowed sari. He sits next to her and discovers the floor is wet. And then, a wave of tenderness and regret takes over as he realises what just happened. Films rarely speak about issues such as these, especially when it involves the lead. Even when scatological references are used, they often become the subject of comedy, never used sensitively. In between his sensitivity and her practical explanation that she drinks a lot of water and could not control “it”, love seeps in. – Subha J Rao
There are no love letters. No pictures exchanged. They don’t see each other, yet Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mathilukal remains one of those unfinished love stories that will last forever. Separated by a high wall between the male and female enclosures of a prison, the meet-cute between Bashir and Narayani begins with just a whistle. He’s a freedom fighter, she a murderer sentenced to life. But when they meet each other, their solitude gets a parole, the roses in his garden have new meaning and her life becomes more bearable. These scenes are proof that even a 10 ft wall in the middle make no difference to the sheer eroticism two great actors can create with their words. – Vishal Menon