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Contact Admin. These are external links and will open in a new window. Rehana Sultan, a year-old debutante fresh out of film school, is playing the role of the prostitute. She's sprawled on a bed in a blood-red chiffon sari after fixing herself a whiskey, and is trying to coax her unwilling customer to join her in bed. Come to me, and I am sure you will like it too," she says, her eyes fluttering. Sultan stands up on the bed, and drops her clothes.
The hairdresser on the set has given her a long wig, so the thick, fake tresses cover her upper body. Then the camera frames her legs in an inverted V, with the man, faintly out of focus, staring at her from the end of the room.
It was the early s, and time moved slowly in India. Not long ago, censors had banned Lady Chatterley's Lover to stop "prurient minds which take delight and pleasures from erotic writings". Bollywood was better known for its mawkish song-and-dance fare.
Heroines, as filmmaker Shyam Benegal said, were "required to be pure and virginal". Chetna , an uneven and gutsy film on the rehabilitation of a prostitute, was a rash outlier. The film, directed by BR Ishara , a chain-smoking maverick, appeared to shock India. One critic wrote that Sultan "gives a shockingly bold portrait sic of the undercover, high-priced whore". She was called a "trailblazer who ushered in a sexual revolution with her boldly-defiant portrayal of the assertive woman".
Sultan, chimed another critic, "shatters every canon of the industry by accepting the role of a call-girl and mouthing bold dialogue". Most appeared to have forgotten the film. They revelled in calling the debutante, the daughter of an electrical goods contractor and a homemaker mother from the sleepy northern city of Allahabad, a "new, bold sex phenomenon".