HOUSES OF HOLIES

October 6, 2015 – 5:16 am


In real life, sex and spirituality might be so intertwined that one doesn’t think too much of them. But in Amitabh Chakraborty’s Cosmic Sex (2012), talking and thinking about sex when there is a naked person in front of you can be a totally different matter. Stephen Tan reviews.

What would you do - if you are a red-blooded, virile young man - when you find a full-bodied, voluptuous woman, lying naked in front of you, nay, even beckoning you? Would you embrace her? Get intimate with her? Have sex with her? Or have a can-look-only-but-no-touch quasi philosophical-religious discussion about sex with her?

This scene, which occurs about halfway through, will either make or break Amitabh Chakraborty’s Cosmic Sex (2012) as a movie. The minute anyone sniggers or even laughs, the Bengali movie is dead!

As a young boy, Kripa was already attached to his mother (but to call it sexually attracted might be too severe). Kripa’s mother dies when Kripa is a young man and his father remarries. Relations between Kripa and his father is strained and Kripa’s stepmother, Sarah, tries to reach out to the young man. While dancing together one night, Kripa almost hugs Sarah when his father stumbles upon them. In the ensueing scuffle, Kripa knocks down his father and thinks he has killed his father in the process.

Kripa runs away and meets Devi, a prostitute, who brings him to the brothel where they have sex. Devi’s pimp, the transgender Jonaki, finds herself attracted to Kripa but when she tries to get close to Kripa, the young man accidentally pushes her off the balcony. Thinking he has killed another person, Kripa, once again, runs off into the night.

In a dazed state, Kripa follows an Indian procession and sees Sadhana, a woman who resembles his mother. Kripa wants to stay with Sadhana and relates his past and background. Sadhana, who is an ascetic from the Fakiri (Islamic) sect, decides to help Kripa to be “reborn” as a “new” person. Sadhana believes in Dehotatva or deha tattva (worshipping through one’s own body) and where sex between men and women does not involve any semen. Certainly not what some have in mind when they call it “heady”.

Sadhana guides Kripa, who is caught in the grips of desire, and teaches the young man that through prayer (at its most basic, a turning of the mind to God or the Creator) - even as she is giving him a handjob and masturbating him - he can achieve a climax and nirvana at the same time!

But reality intrudes into the confines of their room. Kripa agrees to meet his father (who was not killed in the accident) but seeing Kripa with a woman who looks like his dead wife proves too much for the man. Kripa and Sadhana decide to return to her old ashram but they are followed by the love-forlorn Jonaki and her gang.

The abovementioned problematic scene notwithstanding, Amitabh Chakraborty has made a bold movie. Full frontal female nudity; menstrual blood and a masturbating scene (even if it is shown entirely in the shadow) - probably already ensured that Cosmic Sex will not be screened to the large, movie-going Indian public.

And then, there is a focus on the Fakiri sect - which even breaks its own tradition when the dead guru (master) left instruction that his head be turned to the direction of where his wife was buried instead of turning west to face the Kaaba (Mecca). However, in a touch of black humour, while running away from Jonaki and her gang, Kripa and (Islamic) Sadhana find help from an Indian troupe, in deity costume and full make-up, who are trying to extol the virtues of Hinduism.

The film also tries to play up the story of the celibate Gandhi who tried to balance that line between spirituality and sex and even then he felt he failed as “in spite of his strict vow of discipline and celibacy, a few drops of semen passed out from him”.

While the “debunking” of Gandhi (and traditionalism) may be shown as the shattering of a framed picture of the Indian leader, the road for women is still an arduous one - and even tragic in some cases. Ultimately, it is social mores and religious orthodoxy that stand in their way, as the ending shows Kripa in a boat with Sadhana being stopped when they are faced with a herd of cows in the waterway.

If there is a misstep, it is Jonaki whose histronics and over-the-top acting that seem to come from a different, and much older, Tamil movie.

But the movie really belongs to actress Rii Sen, who plays the ascetic Sadhana and won the best actress award in 2012 at Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema. Cosmic Sex is not the first time Rii appeared nude in movies. She also did that in Gandu (2010). In an interview before Cosmic Sex was completed, Rii said: “I don’t want my work to be seen as gimmick of any sort. I’ve gone for full frontal nudity in both Q’s Gandu and Amitabh Chakraborty’s yet-unfinished Cosmic Sex. Women’s sexuality is dealt with in both films and I’m happy that I have been able to use my body for a great cinematic purpose. Sexuality is all about women power. So far, films have been from a man’s perspective. It’s great news that directors like Q and Vimukti Jayasundara are doing their best to make a difference.”

She continued: “Today, cinema is also attempting to be realistic. I can roam around in my house without clothes on. Isn’t that being real? If I try to portray the same on screen, I automatically end up ruffling feathers. Haven’t Monica Bellucci, Naomi Watts, Scarlett Johansson gone nude in almost every film that they have done? So, I’m definitely not the first one. And I don’t want the focus to shift to when I’ve done that instead of what led me to do the same. I was the first to have worn a bikini on television. That must be some five-seven years back. And it’s certainly not about Paoli, Ushashie or me doing a nude scene and disappear. Film-making is a process. You ought to be part of it. It’s your life. Be it Gandu or Chatrak, both are a slap on society face, which has so far known sexuality as a man raping a woman.”

Although Amitabh Chakraborty’s Cosmic Sex might look as if the movie is centred around Kripa, it is actually about Sadhana, who believes that God IS in her body, that through prayer and self control, all life begins when the Ira, the Pingala and the Sushumna (as illustrated by the three holy rivers - Ganga/Ganges, Jamuna and Saraswati) converge in the Vagina. As Mother Earth, she is the one who controls Kripa (men). It’s hard to find a more feminist movie than this, if viewers can only stop sniggering.

Note: The Cosmic Sex DVD is banned in $ingapore.

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