The self-appointed guardians of India’s moral timber who burned porn-star Sunny Leone’s effigies before her Bollywood debut needn’t have gone to the trouble.
The film, billed as Bollywood’s most erotic thriller yet, is more benign than its poster that was banned from Mumbai’s buses. The kicker? The woman in the poster isn’t even Leone.
The movie, starring Leone playing Izna, an X-rated actress, is called “Jism 2” (jism means body in Hindi). It was meant to open up the portrayal of sex in mainstream Indian cinema.
All “Jism 2” ends up exposing is the banality of its makers, director-producer Pooja Bhatt and her writer-father Mahesh Bhatt. The Bhatts, who made “Jism” in 2003, have built a reputation as pioneers of erotica in Bollywood with a slew of raunch-fests over the past decade.
Their failure is unfortunate because they squander a chance to confront the hypocrisy that pervades India’s attitude toward carnality -- though with a population of 1.2 billion, the nation can hardly be considered frigid.
The movie begins with Izna proclaiming in a grave voice- over: “I am a porn star.” She lets us know she is dying, which may be a hint that it’s pointless to hope for any cinematic illustration of her declared profession.
The inconsequential plot involves an intelligence agency that seems to consist of just two operatives (Arunoday Singh and Arif Zakaria), and an honest-cop-turned-terrorist played by Randeep Hooda (Monsoon Wedding) who happens to be Izna’s former lover.
The makers might have done well to watch Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 classic “Body Heat”, in which Kathleen Turner and William Hurt take us on a smoldering ride through illicit passion. Instead, we get to see Leone’s constantly heaving bosom and some somber petting between clothed actors that isn’t a lot more risque than a promotional video for a high-end spa.
This isn’t to say that nudity is essential for a film to be sensual. The real problem is that the Bhatts don’t know how to film erotica that could challenge repressive cultural mores.
Leone looks uncomfortable throughout, and displays the emotive range of, well, an adult-movie actress.
The Indo-Canadian became famous when she became a participant in the local version of the reality-television show Big Brother.
When children began Googling Leone after the show, the search results made them grow up much faster than they or their parents may have bargained for.
Devoid of a coherent plot, gripping dialog, charismatic actors, genuine thrills or eroticism, the movie fails to satisfy any craving.
For that, Indians know indulging in one’s erotic fantasies is just a few Internet clicks away.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
“Jism 2” is playing in India and in select theaters worldwide.
(Pratish Narayanan writes about Indian cinema for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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