Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Original South Indian Dirty Picture!

Kissing Flowers From Cathy Garitty

We grew up watching Hindi movies where love and sex were shown implicitly. Two flowers would gently lean towards each other, or the hero and heroine would hold hands and disappear behind a tree. The picturization of a really hot kiss or really hot sex was something else.  As the 2 lovers moved in for the kiss, a multi-coloured spiral circle would appear between soon-to-be-puckered lips. All to the crescendo of a string quartet!

We wondered why Bollywood wouldn't show an actual kiss, and asked our mother. She smiled, and told us that things had changed dramatically.

Really, Amma?? Can anything be more conservative than two sunflowers closing in on each other. And a long shot of flowers in a head-to-head touch, to show a long kiss?

Amma smiled and said "Do you know that Anna and his brothers were punished by Tatha for going to see a dirty picture when they were teenagers?"  

Anna, barely got through the door that evening, before he was bombarded with "You saw a dirty picture when you were a child with Padukaka and Krishnakaka?"

"Oh! We didn't. We had all intentions to see the film though", acknowledged Anna. This comment was met with round eyes and ooohs and aaahs.

Vana Mohini
Original Poster
In 1941, when Anna was about about 13 years old, a Tamil movie called Vana Mohini was released. It created a scandal.  "Respectable" Tamilians spoke about the movie in whispers, and didn't go to see the film. The film's heroine was a Sri Lankan actress named K. Thavamani Devi who appeared in revealing clothing

A major role in the film was played by "Chandru", an elephant.  It is said that this is possibly the first time an elephant received top billing in the credits of a film. Anna and his brothers were probably attracted by this too!

Of course, given the scandal, Anna and his brothers were forbidden by their father from watching Vana Mohini. 

"It is a dirty picture", Tatha boomed, emphasizing and dragging on the
letter "r", making the word "dirty" more salacious and dramatic.

Obviously, forbidding young boys on the cusp of teenage-hood from doing anything is a sure-shot way to get them to do exactly what you don't want them to. 

K. Thavamani Devi
Anna, Padukaka, and Krishnakaka, pooled their saved money to buy film tickets. Then one afternoon, when the household was in siesta mode, they sneaked out and went to the theater to watch Vana Mohini. Unfortunately, there was a storm and they had to return home without seeing the film.  Tatha (my grandfather) was so upset with them that he locked them out of the house and they slept that night on the steps to the front door of their home. 

"But Anna, what was in the picture that made it a dirty picture?" we asked, obviously more interested in the dirty stuff than their adventures and punishments.

Anna's response stunned us for a few seconds.

"The heroine, Thavamani Devi showed 2 inches of ankle."

The four of us rolled over with laughter. 

Anna has still not watched Vana Mohini.


  1. Wow! A vivid chronicle of an India that was. Two inches of ankle? Sure, in a society dominated by Victorian value sets, that's omg anathema ;-). We've long forgotten the uber sensuous Urvasi casting her seductive spells on Pururava at Kubera's luxury garden Chaitra Ratha!! Or she's perhaps hidden from light? Playing her teases from behind Queen Victoria's iron curtains?

    We continue to have today, as we did back in Anna's time, as we did in Thatha's, multiple value sets and sensibilities. I find this plurality extremely fascinating!!

    Love the vivid narrative you've used to describe this splice from Annas life :) :). Please please share more stories!

  2. Thank you so much for your comments and encouragement.

    After reading up on the movie Vana Mohini, I wondered if Tatha's objection to showing 2 inches of ankle was perhaps a euphemism, as the actress was supposedly in a sarong and showed bare shoulders and more leg than a 9-yard saree tied decorously!