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Before Vidya Balan, an Original South Indian Dirty Picture Ruled

How my father and his brothers were punished by their father for having gone to watch a ‘dirty movie’ as teenagers!

3 min read
Before Vidya Balan, an Original South Indian Dirty Picture Ruled
Hindi Female

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We grew up watching Hindi movies where love and sex were shown implicitly. Two flowers would gently lean towards each other, or the hero and heroine would hold hands and disappear behind a tree. The picturisation of a really hot kiss or really hot sex was something else. As the two lovers moved in for the kiss, a multi-coloured spiral circle would appear between soon-to-be-puckered lips. All to the crescendo of a string quartet!

We wondered why Bollywood wouldn’t show an actual kiss, and asked our mother. She smiled, and told us that things had changed dramatically.

Really, Amma? Can anything be more conservative than two sunflowers closing in on each other? And a long shot of flowers in a head-to-head touch, to show a long kiss?

Amma smiled and said, “Do you know that Anna and his brothers were punished by Tatha for going to see a dirty picture when they were teenagers?”

Anna barely got through the door that evening, before he was bombarded with – “You saw a dirty picture when you were a child with Padukaka and Krishnakaka?”

“Oh! We didn’t. We had all intentions to see the film though”, acknowledged Anna. This comment was met with round eyes and ooohs and aaahs.


In 1941, when Anna was about about 13 years old, a Tamil movie called Vana Mohini was released. It created a scandal. “Respectable” Tamilians spoke about the movie in whispers, and didn’t go to see the film. The film’s heroine was a Sri Lankan actress named K Thavamani Devi who appeared in revealing clothing.

The poster of the movie Vana Mohini. (Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

A major role in the film was played by ‘Chandru’, an elephant. It is said that this is possibly the first time an elephant received top billing in the credits of a film. Anna and his brothers were probably attracted by this too!

Of course, given the scandal, Anna and his brothers were forbidden by their father from watching Vana Mohini.

“It is a dirty picture,” Tatha boomed, emphasising and dragging on the letter “r”, making the word “dirty” more salacious and dramatic.

Obviously, forbidding young boys on the cusp of teenage-hood from doing anything is a sure-shot way to get them to do exactly what you don’t want them to.

Anna, Padukaka, and Krishnakaka, pooled their saved money to buy film tickets. Then one afternoon, when the household was in siesta mode, they sneaked out and went to the theater to watch Vana Mohini. Unfortunately, there was a storm and they had to return home without seeing the film. Tatha (my grandfather) was so upset with them that he locked them out of the house and they slept that night on the steps to the front door of their home.

“But Anna, what was in the picture that made it a dirty picture?” we asked, obviously more interested in the dirty stuff than their adventures and punishments.

Thavamani Devi only showed two inches of ankle! (Photo Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Anna’s response stunned us for a few seconds.

“The heroine, Thavamani Devi showed 2 inches of ankle.”

The four of us rolled over with laughter.

Anna has still not watched Vana Mohini.


(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

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