Valentine’s Week of Sex: Kabhi Kabhi Review 2! What Does Yash Chopra Think Makes Good Sex?

This is a movie with a lot of layers, consideration of parent and child relationships, and changing times, and the generation gap. But it is also about sex, and what makes good sex and bad sex, and why that matters in a relationship.

To get the plot out of the way: Amitabh and Raakhee were college sweethearts who broke up and Raakhee married Shashi. Amitabh married Waheeda, not knowing that she had a tragic first love and a secret illegitimate child before their wedding. 20 years later, Shashi and Raakhee’s son Rishi and Neetu fall in love at a college party and plan to get married. But then Neetu learns Waheeda is her biological mother and goes to find her, Rishi follows, and Neetu’s legitimate half sister Naseem gets a crush on Rishi and starts flirting with him. In the end, all the secrets are revealed and everyone is forgiven, Amitabh and Waheeda decide to stay married, Shashi and Raakhee are more in love than ever, and Rishi and Neetu are engaged with the blessing of everyone including Naseem.

Image result for kabhi kabhi poster

Now, let’s talk sex! This is a film of multiple love triangles, and ultimately it is sex that defines which couple ends up together. Not that good sex papers over the other problems, but that good sex is a result of them being a good couple. Raakhee and Amitabh were a terrible couple. He never listened to her, there was no give and take. He recited poetry to her, he decided they should break up, Raakhee was just there, passive. And then Amitabh is terrible again with Waheeda. Their bedroom is a place of order and distance and control. He talks to her, she doesn’t talk to him. Amitabh’s daughter is also terrible with Rishi. She is flirtatious and excited to be with him, but there is no true connection. He is a fantasy person for her, their love story is not “real”, because they don’t connect physically. Neetu is sitting on Rishi’s lap five minutes after their first meeting, Naseem and Rishi barely touch. Shashi and Raakhee have a great sex life, she is happy even on their honeymoon, they touch each other’s naked bodies without shame, they play in the bedroom and toss each other around equally. Their marriage isn’t great because the sex is great, but Shashi’s willingness to give in the bedroom, and Raakhee’s fearlessness with him, is a sign that the rest of their marriage is one of happy equality and honesty.

Part of good sex is feeling safe, happy, loved, free. Raakhee has a secret going into her marriage, but Shashi loves her so much, and is so clearly happy and in love with her, and makes her feel completely perfect and desired and happy, so their sex is great, right from the start. We see her slapping and teasing him to wake him up, laughing at the lipstick on his face, and Shashi accepting her laughter and laughing at himself about how happy he is to be married. Two people who are truly intimate, sharing all the flaws and jokes of life together. This is what sex should do for a couple, it forces them to be vulnerable and trusting, because sex is a scary funny freaky thing to do.

Rishi and Neetu don’t have sex, but they have a sexual connection, right away. They like each other, they like each other’s bodies, they like being connected that way. They are real to each other because their bodies are real. Raakhee and Amitabh met in college too, but for them it was all surface. Amitabh talked about her beauty, Raakhee loved his poetry. And Amitabh claims to have been in love with her for 20 years, without her actual presence. Is that love? Really? Or is that living in a fantasy? 20 years later, Neetu leaves Rishi and he followed her. Rishi is not happy living with his memories and his poetry, for him love means presence, touching her and being there with her. Neetu is real to him, not just an idea in his head. And Neetu is the same, while Amitabh selflessly stepped back and let Raakhee marry someone else, it tortures Neetu to see Rishi with another girl. She doesn’t want a love of fine words and poetry, she wants a love of private personal connection just between the two of them. Neetu and Rishi hold each other, hug each other, even when separated they look at each other and you can feel the wound of not touching.

To touch another person is to have an acknowledgement that they exist outside of you, that they are there and you are here. To touch another person in a sexual way is to acknowledge a mutual need. You want them, and they want you, and both your wants are necessary. For good sex, you need a constant negotiation between your mutual needs so that you can find a middle-ground that satisfies you both.

That is what we see the “good” couples do inside and outside of the bedroom. In a later scene, after decades of marriage, Shashi and Raakhee are in bed together. She asks him to romance her to, say something pretty, and holds up a pillow to hold him off. She is initiating sex that night, he was just sitting next to her before. Shashi accommodates her both immediately becomes physically closer to her and tries to think of pretty language to please her. It ends with his head on her lap and her laughing at his awkward poetry. That night Raakhee needed physical closeness, and a little romance, and Shashi respected her needs, and was aroused by them. Raakhee reaching out and needing him triggered him desiring her. Being needed is sexy. In the earlier scene on the honeymoon, it was the other way around, Shashi woke up naked and immediately reached for and embraced Raakhee. He was initiating in that case, but she immediately laughed and smiled, because his need triggered hers. The power flows between them constantly, and it is equally good either way.

That’s within the bedroom. Outside of the bedroom, we see Shashi casually talk to Raakhee about their son, about Amitabh, about everything. We see them simply being happy to spend time together. And when the Amitabh reveal happens, Shashi works through it out loud, talks to Raakhee about what he is feeling, doesn’t shut her out. Raakhee is a naturally silent person, but she talks back too, gives her opinions on parenting, on honeymooning, on everything. A relationship doesn’t stop and start again at the bedroom door, what happens inside affects what happens outside and vice versa. Good mutual satisfying sex is part of a good mutual relationship.

Rishi and Neetu don’t have sex, but they do cuddle and neck quite a bit. And they also fight, they have passionate arguments about the most important things in life. Neetu expresses her feelings, and Rishi expresses his, both of them fight flat out for what they want without shame. The physical intimacy they feel expresses the emotional intimacy they feel. While with Naseem Rishi is always charming and perfect (which is why she loves him), with Neetu he shows his ugliness, selfishness, and pain. In the same way with Naseem, Rishi smiles and sings and dances for her, with Neetu he grabs her, strokes her, kisses her.

And finally, Amitabh. Amitabh does not want intimacy, with anyone. He let himself open up a little bit to Raakhee in college, and now has chosen to shut himself off from pain by living in his memories of her and avoiding a connection with anyone else. He straight up tells his wife Waheeda that the only person he loves in the world is their daughter (so, not Waheeda). And Waheeda accepts it as her punishment, because of her own secret that she had a lover and a love child before marriage.

Intimacy means pain. Sex is about opening yourself up to the possibility of pain, giving your body over to someone else. Amitabh and Waheeda are both carrying scars which make them afraid to let pain in, and therefore keep walls around themselves. We see them interact in the world, the way Amitabh expects total obedience and service from Waheeda and Waheeda silently provides it. And then we see them in the bedroom, and the relationship is the same. They sit on opposite sides of the bed, there is no reaching for each other, no sense of physical intimacy. Amitabh makes pronouncements and Waheeda silently listens, and then they turn off the lights without touching each other. This is not a sexless marriage, there is a child after all, but it is sex without intimacy. They are strangers sharing a bed and a house.

Late in the film, Amitabh gives an impassioned speech about his sadness and heartbreak and so on. Shashi listens to it, aware that Amitabh is talking about his undying love for the woman Shashi is married to. And when it is over, Shashi’s response is “wow! Such love! Such a man!” This is why Shashi is good at sex. His first reaction is to consider the needs of others, not himself. He is incredibly unselfish. And this is why Amitabh is bad at sex. The world revolves around his needs, his feelings, no one else exists.

And this is why Raakhee picks Shashi, over and over again. Yes, she loved Amitabh and he loved her. But once she had a relationship of true give and take, someone who really “saw” her and desired her for what she was and not just a poetic fantasy, then Amitabh became a memory and no more. Sex is supposed to do this, if it comes from a good place. Sex, and intimacy, over years and years. Raakhee and Shashi had years of private bedroom talks, jokes, knowing each other’s bodies as well as their own. A reveal of some college romance was a surprise and a shock, but in the end blew away to nothing in the face of what they had built together.

Waheeda and Amitabh are married 20 years but not intimate. That is why the reveals of past loves threaten their marriage so much, because this 20 year marriage has never progressed passed the level of a youthful love story, they have never tried to build something together that could last. The end of this film is their real beginning, Waheeda tossing off her guilt and Amitabh giving up his anger and resentment, finally facing each other as equals, finally free to be who they really are.

I guess what I like about this movie is that it says that sex is important because it is part of the whole. You can’t have a real true love story without sex, without opening yourself up in that physical way, that is why Raakhee and Amitabh’s romance is ultimately pointless and why Amitabh and Waheeda’s marriage is dead. Rishi and Neetu don’t have sex, but they are sexual together, it is part of who they are together, a sign that their relationship is real. Other films place sex on this pedestal, like it is the one perfect thing that will solve all problems, will change everything. This movie brings it down to earth, says that it doesn’t solve or cause problems, just reflects what is already there.

3 thoughts on “Valentine’s Week of Sex: Kabhi Kabhi Review 2! What Does Yash Chopra Think Makes Good Sex?

  1. One thing I seriously appreciate about Indian films in general is the portrayal of joyous marital sex. Have you noticed that in American films marital sex is usually portrayed as boring, stifling, confining? It’s only the sex outside of marriage that is exciting and authentic. The only mainstream Hollywood film I can think of off the top of my head that portrayed happy marital sex was the older aunt and uncle in Moonstruck.

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    • Well, now I have to remember an American film with joyous marriage sex. You’re right, there really aren’t many! I blame the baby boomers (because why not!). The previous generation was all uptight and censored so no one was having good sex, and then the baby boomers decided marriage and old people were boring and only rule breaking young people could have good sex.

      I can think of tons of TV shows though. Isn’t that interesting? Something about the sitcom/dramedy format encourages married love stories with sex included. I mean, you KNOW Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore had a great sex life.

      On Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 9:44 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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    • Oh wait, I remembered! There was that little spat of “young married people” movies. Love Story, Barefoot in the Park, others I can’t remember. There’s our married sex. Of course, only attractive young childfree people allowed.

      On Wed, Feb 12, 2020 at 9:44 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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