Erectile dysfunction movie latest Bollywood film to tackle formerly taboo topics

Virile male heroes have long been a feature of Bollywood films, but a new movie that hit Singapore screens last Friday tackles a rarely talked-about issue in patriarchal India - erectile dysfunction.

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan is the latest Hindi-language movie to centre on serious health subjects not normally associated with the glamour of the industry's flashy song and dance routines.

Last month, Toilet: Ek Prem Katha told the story of one man's battle to build toilets in his village in rural India.

The 2015 hit Piku dealt with a man's struggles with constipation while Padman, due out next year, is based on the true story of an entrepreneur who transformed hygiene for poor women in India with his low-cost sanitary pad dispenser.

Analysts say these movies are part of a trend of making male protagonists appear more human, in contrast with older Bollywood films where it was common for ultra-macho men to punch rivals through brick walls during elaborate fight scenes.

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan director R.S. Prasanna said he wanted to use the taboo subject of impotence to tackle wider issues of patriarchy and conservative values that dominate Indian society.

"I was interested in making a wedding film in which the love story happens in an arranged marriage," Prasanna said.

"Then I began to explore the idea that if a conservative couple in an arranged match starts getting naughty with each other before marriage, what would happen if he couldn't get it up in the bedroom?

"Erectile dysfunction became a starting point for larger issues," he added.

Shubh Mangal Saavdhan stars Ayushmann Khurrana as a young man who suffers from performance anxiety in the bedroom, and is a remake of the 2013 Tamil-language comedy Kalyana Samayal Saadham, which was also directed by Prasanna.

He drew inspiration for the film from the short time he spent as a stay-at-home husband.

"Many women in my neighbourhood looked down on me because my wife was working and I was making dinner for her. Those women were content with their patriarchal husbands," Prasanna said.

"I replaced financial impotence with sexual impotence... Being a man is not about standing up in bed, but standing up for an issue or standing up for your woman," he added.

Although the story discusses a taboo subject in largely conservative India, the film censor board cleared it with a U/A (parental guidance certificate) without any cuts.

"There is a thin line between naughty and vulgar, between creepy and sincere, and we have not crossed that. I am glad that today, films on constipation, erectile dysfunction and toilets can be commercially viable and entertaining," Prasanna said.

"There is a huge transition going on in Indian society and filmmakers are reflecting this by talking about issues that used to be considered taboo," Bollywood analyst Akshaye Rathi said. - AFP