The language of sex in Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon ( IPKKND)

By Sreejeeta Ghosh

Hindi television and sex have had a complicated relationship, with representations ranging from the one-time consummation sequence after a wedding, to the traditional heroine shying away from any sexual insinuation by her husband. There was a brief period of shows in the 90s and a briefer period in the 00s that dealt with sexuality, desire and consent in their lead characters which are, surprisingly, absent in modern television but that is a topic for another day. 

One show that differs in that regard is the phenomenally popular show from the years 2011-2012, Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon. It stands out for being one of the first shows in its genre to recognize desire as an equally powerful and independent emotion from its much more popular cousin, love. IPKKND’s language of sex is subtle yet so intricately woven into the story’s DNA that it deserves a thesis of its own.

For the uninitiated, Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon draws from the classic Pride and Prejudice formula where a wealthy man meets a middle-class woman and they discover that despite their stark differences, they are a perfect match. Arnav is a diabetic, rich, atheist, fashion tycoon with generational wealth and Khushi is a simple religious woman with humble ambitions and a sweet tooth. Yet, they’re both fiercely protective of their families, suffer a superiority complex (his – financial, hers – moral) and have a close relationship with their respective sisters. 

The show puts the audience in Khushi’s shoes who embarks on her journey of discovery of desire with Arnav as the subject of desire. With clever writing and cleverer cinematography, the show sparks the imagination of the audience in an honest engagement about desire through innuendoes, closeups, silence and body language. These strong interactions often set up in the midst of a traditional backdrop, come out as deliciously erotic, often without the need to even have the protagonists touch each other sexually. In short, Arnav and Khushi ropewalk foreplay through long gazes and touches that give an unabashed validation to desire. Let us see how they have used several devices  (old and new ) to communicate the simmering physical attraction between their emotionally incompatible leads :

The Gaze The first time Khushi falls into Arnav’s life, quite literally, they have a long moment to look at each other. There’s nothing romantic about it. Dramatic thunderous music plays in the background. They’re as far from privacy as one can be – in front of the cameras next to a fashion ramp. Yet there is a strange undercurrent that establishes the fierce attraction in that first moment. We are introduced to nazar –  the power of the gaze. Arnav searches her face, looks closely into her hazel eyes, and quivering lips and looks back at Khushi while she holds on to his neck, fingertips brushing his skin. The whole screen is filled with their eyes and her split-second touch. 

Attraction:  When Khushi in her rebellion against revealing clothes, chooses to opt for a red sari in the face of a forced photoshoot, you expect conflict. Yet what you get is a charged moment of stark physical chemistry. It’s the moment where the main love theme from the show is introduced. The characters are standing at two ends of the studio with several people doing their jobs and you expect nothing intimate to happen. Except…Khushi’s pallu slips and instead of immediately fixing it, she stands transfixed by his stare. Arnav checks her out, and she is surprised to be his subject of desire. Even more surprising is the realisation that she wants to be, as repeatedly glances back to see if he is still looking at her, which he is. The camera focuses on Arnav’s gaze, as he looks at Khushi’s hair, eyes, body, and shallow breathing. Somehow the scene communicates the stark physical attraction he has for her, all the while managing to stay well away from the infamous male gaze that often objectifies women on our screens.

Touch: Having a heroine faint and fall into the arms of the hero comes from probably an overused leaf of the textbook of Indian television romances. And yet when Khushi faints in Arnav’s arms for the first time on a thunderous night, no one is rescuing anyone. The lightning strikes Arnav when he realises the effect she has on him. He brushes her fringe aside and wipes a tear-drop just as the music swells into a soft, mellow tune, giving Arnav a moment. It’s not love, it is too early for that. But this is the one thing the show keeps on asserting – Arnav and Khushi cross the boundary of physical intimacy and allow each other to coexist in intimate spaces even before their minds have bonded.

 If this isn’t an acknowledgement of desire, what is? 

Insinuation: For a hundred times Arnav and Khushi don’t kiss. They cut off from each other right before the stare is too intense, the touch too personal, the air too thick. The viewer is teased with the possibilities of what could have happened if the circumstances were slightly different. In two tasteful sequences in the show, one where Khushi is demonstrating to another character how to wear a saree and the other where she gets herself entangled in fairy lights, there’s a strong subtext of dressing and undressing. In the first, even though she is fully clothed, when Arnav catches her in between the lesson, it nearly feels like he has caught her in between dressing. The moment he looks away the saree drops from Khushi’s hand. Then there is another “erotic” scene when she is entangled in fairy lights. The wires lights get wrapped around her like a second dress and Arnav unwraps her carefully, with a delicate reverence. It seems no coincidence that one wire is like a dupatta around her neck and the other mimics the dori that holds her kurta shoulders. The characters have choreographed moves that mimic a slow, poised undressing. Arnav and Khushi feel the strong current and it shows in her breathing hard and shutting her eyes, him looking at her with keen attention and treating her with the gentlest hand. 

As the show moves ahead, the pace changes. From tip-toeing around their desire, a frank, even if, reluctant exploration of their desire comes into play. But for that, you will have to wait for part 2 of this article!

(Continued in part 2- coming soon!)

Sreejeeta Ghosh

6 thoughts on “The language of sex in Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon ( IPKKND)

  1. Wow. This is suchhhh an interesting read. Having watched the show when I was still a teen, feeling all of these vibes when I saw the scene, but this is the first time I truly understood it was all carved with detailing. And understood that physical intimacy was kinda bit separate from depiction of love. Good one. Waiting for the next part.

    Liked by 2 people

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