Bollywood Female Comedy Featuring Masturbation Scene Sparks Controversy

'Veere Di Wedding' - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Balaji/AKFC

Described as India's answer to ‘Sex and the City,’ the hit film has caused controversy in the conservative nation with scenes of women drinking and having casual sex.

A buddy comedy featuring drinking, swearing, casual sex and risque humor is a Hollywood staple, but in a conservative country like India, a movie with those elements, a movie with four female leads no less, has caused quite a stir. 

Bollywood comedy Veere Di Wedding has divided critics and audiences alike in India with the antics of its four female characters. Starring Kareena Kapoor Khan, Sonam Kapoor Ahuja, Swara Bhaskar and Shikha Talsania, the film tells the story of childhood friends who face the ups and downs of relationships and marriages. Along the way, they drink hard and party hard while indulging in the odd casual fling.

With its cast decked out in fashionable attire and set in upscale New Delhi, the film has been hailed as India’s answer to Sex and the City.

The film was causing controversy well before it was released on June 1. The title of the film was a deliberate pun that challenged notions of patriarchy and the trailer featured dialogue that contained Hindi swear words. 

In neighboring Pakistan, the film was banned with reports quoting a source at the country’s censor board stating that the board “decided that it is not fit for screening in Pakistan. The main issues are vulgarity and language and also [its] theme.”

On top of the scenes of drinking and casual sex, one scene from Veere Di Wedding has quickly become notorious in the Indian press and local social media. In the scene, Bhaskar’s character, who is going through a failed marriage, is seen to be masturbating with a dildo. 

One tweeter, who has since been retweeted over a thousand times, wrote that he was “embarrassed” when the masturbation scene came up as he was watching it with his grandmother who said she was “ashamed” of the film. Thousands of other people have also expressed similar views on Twitter. 

When questioned by one Twitter user as to the significance of that scene in the context of female empowerment, Bhaskar replied that “masturbation is about owning your body, sexuality” and that “in a culture that largely silences or ignores or shames female sexuality, showing a girl gratifying herself in a film in a non-judgemental way is empowering.”

The media in India has been divided with some welcoming the more liberal attitudes to female sexuality. The Indian Express hailed the film as “a fun ride, which squeezes past its creaky tropes and partial squelchiness by some smart casting choices, and perky performances.”

News network NDTV said that “India could do with an alarm call. Sometimes we need a movie to tell us what an orgasm means.”

On the other side, CNN-IBN network wasn’t impressed with the film’s characters, who “talk freely about sex and orgasms and drink till they pass out and wake up in strangers’ beds. None of it would’ve been a problem if it didn’t feel so labored. Or frankly, if the film delivered even a smidgeon of fun.”

But all the controversy has been a boon to Veere Di Wedding's box office returns. The film is estimated to have crossed $7.4 million (500 million rupees) already despite the critical press and the social media backlash.

In recent years, female-driven films have been challenging conventions in India. Last year’s hit Lipstick Under My Burkha was initially banned by India’s censor board until its makers legally challenged the decision, which finally led to the film’s release, though with some minor cuts. That film also showed its lead female characters, who range from 18-50, challenging patriarchy and sexual mores.

Veere Di Wedding is co-produced by actor Anil Kapoor’s production company AKFC and Balaji Motion Pictures, with the latter’s credits including 2011’s The Dirty Picture, which revolved around an aspiring actress who ends up becoming an iconic sex symbol in the south Indian film industry in the eighties.