Theevandi, Tovino Thomas's recent release, has opened to mixed reviews. The film has Tovino playing a chain smoker named Bineesh who is so addicted to the cigarette that it even ends his relationship with his fiancee, Devi (Samyuktha Menon).
However, what has got tongues wagging is the kiss scene between the two actors - a "liplock" as it's known. To put things in context, what happens is that Devi pushes Bineesh away when they kiss because she hates the smell of the cigarette on his lips. Later, when he gives up the habit after a struggle, they exchange a kiss, signalling that their relationship has turned the corner.
While the kiss is not absolutely necessary for the plot to progress, it is done tastefully and is a natural expression of love between two young people.
Perhaps because Tovino has done such scenes in his earlier films, memes and jokes that mock his on screen kisses have been doing the rounds. From the lovely romantic tragedy Mayaanadhi in which he did a few intimate scenes with his co-star Aishwarya Lekshmi to the rather juvenile Abhiyude Kadha Anuvindeyum and the intense Maradona, Tovino has done kissing scenes quite comfortably.
Malayalam cinema, like any other industry, has objectified women on screen and even U-rated films have had rape scenes and rape jokes. However, consensual lovemaking scenes which look realistic and are choreographed well have been quite rare. At the most, we may see the back of the actor's head in what we're supposed to think is a kiss scene. These scenes seldom look romantic and it's mostly about the man's lust overpowering a shy or protesting woman.
For some unfathomable reason, a consensual kiss on the lips is considered to be more "vulgar" than the routine item numbers and explicit dialogues we've heard on screen. When actor Parvathy spoke up about the misogyny in the Mammootty film Kasaba, for instance, several enraged fans shared her kiss scene with actor Dhanush in Maryan, asking if this was a "respectful" way of showing women.
In the younger generation, Fahadh Faasil and Prithviraj are among the prominent stars who have done kissing scenes with their co-stars where the camera does not take a "modest" angle. But it's Tovino who seems to be normalising this expression of love on screen, so much so that the actor gets questioned about his kiss scenes in every other interview. For his part, he's made it clear that he's here to do his job and that he's ready to do anything for a film - from nude scenes to a kiss.
It's time the audience, too, grew up and began to appreciate the fact that actors are playing characters on screen and not their real selves. The representation of desire on screen has been very skewed thus far and it reflects our own discomfort with sex and sexuality in real life. It's also indicative of our lack of understanding when it comes to consent. It's high time we kiss our hypocrisy goodbye and appreciate good cinema for what it is.