So to start where I left off … The show excels in communicating sexual tension through innuendoes.
Innuendo. Before Arnav and Khushi come close to kissing on Diwali, Khushi twists her ankle with only Arnav around to help. Against a scenic background of his decorated private pool, he puts her on a chair, kneels on the ground and carefully places her foot on his thigh. A moment is spent as he holds her ankle, raises the saree and utters three words that leave her surprised. It’s not I love you, it’s thora dard hoga – which translates to ‘it’ll hurt a little’. He gives her ankle another sharp twist, and she whimpers and grabs his shoulder. The innuendo is masterfully executed as he looks at her, hazy-eyed, and the camera focuses on Khushi’s whimper and her tight clutch on his shoulder – which should hurt – but doesn’t. The show reaches a crescendo in mimicking sex, so much so that when the characters nearly kiss we feel like we have seen this moment a thousand times and it pales in comparison to what the audience has already imagined. And to make it better – they don’t kiss.
Intention. By this point, we have established that a lot of the scenes are choreographed to mimic sex or sexual attraction in one way or another. And that is fundamental in keeping the slow burn alive without frustrating the audience. And talking about choreography and sex, there isn’t a better sequence than Teri Meri. The sensuality and sexuality that existed as subtext are now implicit. The characters are actively moving towards declaring desire. Arnav moves his hand across Khushi’s bare waist, Khushi runs her hand across his face, and much later Arnav watches Khushi as she’s in the middle of changing her clothes and ranting about her bubble of emotions. The writers make Arnav challenge the desire. Why does it exist in subtext? Where is the acknowledgement? Why is the physical distance maintained? When emotions have become entangled with desire, why hesitation continues to exist? It is time to change the pace of the story, the slow burn takes a setback for action and Arnav is armed with flirtation, while Khushi is armed with debate. The tiptoeing around desire is a forgotten chapter as the characters explore this itch that plagued them for months.
Emotional Intimacy. During Holi, an intoxicated Khushi holds Arnav’s face and expresses her longing and desire for him. While it is a pity the show never explores this further, this scene is monumental because it’s the opposite of everything that has ever happened. Physically Arnav and Khushi aren’t doing anything beyond holding hands or a gentle caress on the face, but they’re crossing emotional boundaries that they’ve barely scratched the surface of. Also, Indian television does not really lend the moment to their female leads to confess their longing and loss of control. Khushi needs an answer as to why her heart beats quicker when he is around, and she needs that answer from him. She, yet again, does not say that she loves him, she simply questions this biological reaction, when it does not seem in tune with the brutality fate has served her in form of a marriage she didn’t consent to. The dreamlike set-up in all-white and soft close-ups makes the scene so emotionally potent that there is no further need for any definite declaration.
Physical Exploration. When Arnav and Khushi remarry, it is interesting to watch how they use each ritual to establish newer physical intimacies. Every day Arnav and Khushi take a step further, physically, in their relationship. And this is monumental considering their desire has been so much of a quiet, simmering emotion that was often tested by fate and circumstances. The audience, and Khushi, are exposed to a healthy, consensual easing of boundaries. It starts with multiple kisses, fond retying of a dori, a trail of touch down Khushi’s spine, her dancing to an innuendo-filled song for Arnav (Namak Isq Ka!) for seduction and then a consummation under the stars.
The writers pace the days and finally bring up the desire to the forefront. The literal and subtext are on the same page. One euphemism used to describe an orgasm is ‘seeing the universe’ and whether it was intentional or not, there’s something innately sweet about the characters making love against a setup with the universe overlooking.
My fondness for this show is in the honesty in the way desire is narrated in Iss Pyaar Ko. There are grey areas around the existence of desire, some relationships and circumstances are uncomfortable, but ultimately there’s always a sense of consent and validation of female desire – something that is not too prevalent in Indian television. If anything, females wanting and expressing desire are often the villains – the Komolikas, Vedikas, Rheas, Aliyas, Tanveers, Cheenis, etc., form an impressive list of women who vie for attention, wealth and desire. But with Khushi, we see how a good “virginal” woman is as much susceptible to a sex drive as anyone and does not see desire as an emotion to shun, but instead something important enough to explore.
And if exploration doesn’t form the spine of the language of sex, what else does?
Note: This was an analytical piece of IPK. As a viewer, much of my take is interpretive as opposed to assertive! I cannot state if the creators intended this interpretation, but the fact that I can pick apart the music, cinematography, writing, acting and directing years after the show is over only speaks to the quality that was delivered.
Written By Sreejeeta Ghosh