From Maharaj’s charan seva to Animal’s ‘lick my shoe’: Most controversial Bollywood scenes in recent times

Aamir Khan’s son Junaid Khan, marked his acting debut with direct-to-OTT release Maharaj. While Junaid has received palpable attention for his turn as 19th century social reformer Karsandas Mulji, much of the headlines Maharaj has been making, has been in lieu of what now appears to be a somewhat ‘controversial’ plot. The film’s initial release set for June 14 stood delayed by a week owing to it being temporarily halted by the Gujarat High Court. The reason? A petition from members of the Vaishnavite Pustimargi sect, who anticipated the film to disrespect their religious sentiments. Since the film’s release however, everything about it appears to have taken a backseat in the face of the ‘charan seva’ scene, featuring Jaideep Ahlawat and Shalini Pandey. Let’s take a look at this, as well as some other scenes in recent Bollywood history which have garnered a similar response.

From Maharaj's charan seva scene to Animal's 'lick my shoe' scene: Bollywood's most controversial on-screen moments
From Maharaj’s charan seva scene to Animal’s ‘lick my shoe’ scene: Bollywood’s most controversial on-screen moments

Maharaj’s charan seva scene

Shalini Pandey starred as Kishori in Malhotra P Siddharth’s Maharaj. Conversely, Jaane Jaan actor Jaideep Ahlawat played the titular role of Maharaj. A scene in the film which has now gained immense traction, sees Shalini’s Kishori being exploited by Jaideep’s Maharaj as she performs charan seva. The practice itself being portrayed on screen, not a figment of imagination, has left many uncomfortable. Opening up about the same, Shalini recently shared how the actual impact of what that scene signified hit her much later. She recalls wanting to not be in closed rooms, needing fresh air and dealing with a nagging anxious feeling. She also revealed how prior to shooting the difficult scene she saw her own character as rather stupid, falling for the setup. However, she eventually got around to understanding how Kishori simply did not know any better and for long had been conditioned to think and act a certain way.

Animal’s ‘lick my shoe’ scene

The Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Animal smashed multiple box office records emerging as one of the most successful releases of 2023. These mean feats however, did not takeaway from how problematic the film was deemed by most, start to finish. Animal of course found its supporters who advocated that it was ‘just a film’ and a thoroughly-gripping one at that. However, many were of the opinion that director Sandeep Reddy Vanga added an undeniable layer of heroism to the patriarchal, misogynistic and repeatedly objectifying character essayed by Ranbir. A particular scene which gripped audiences — yet again for all the wrong reasons, was when Ranbir’s Ranvijay asks Triptii Dimri’s Zoya to lick his shoe in order to prove her loyalty to him, considering the fact that she came out as a mole in the previous scene. Difficult to digest, the scene easily makes for one of the most criticised segments in the film.

Kabir Singh’s slap scene

Vanga and controversy go hand-in-hand and admittedly, the director would have it no other way. That is probably the reason why not one, but two of his films find their names on this list. Kabir Singh (2019) essentially gave a new lease of life to Shahid Kapoor’s acting career and shot Kiara Advani into the big leagues. The film though loved my many, much like Animal has a dedicated base of critics. A scene in the film shows a raging Kabir slap Preeti as he feels she is simply not as committed to the idea of marrying him against all odds, the way he is. Not just this scene, all of Kabir Singh was immensely criticised for seemingly glorifying male chauvinistic behaviour. It is worth mentioning however, that the criticism did not stop it from raking in formidable numbers at the box office.

Padmaavat’s jauhar scene

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat (2018) was wrangling with one controversy after another right since its inception. Following legal entanglements, vandalised sets and a significant tweak in the title, the Deepika Paukone and Ranveer Singh-starrer, also featuring Shahid Kapoor and Jim Sarbh, finally released in January 2018. The climax of the film however opened yet another Pandora’s Box as Deepika’s Rani Padmavati, along with the hundreds of women in the palace, commit ‘jauhar’ — or self-emmolation, to escape falling in the hands of Ranveer’s Alauddin Khilji. Those critiquing this scene pressed on the depiction of women being objectified as the repository of ‘honour’ as men go to war, a sentiment which manages to seamlessly find modern-day manifestations. The sense of triumph portrayed in the scene by Bhansali, is what appears to have got the goat of many.

Udta Punjab’s drug use scene

The third Shahid Kapoor-starrer in this list, Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab (2016) made for a hard-hitting saga on the ravaging impact of drug abuse in the state of Punjab. A particularly graphic scene in question shows Shahid Kapoor’s Tommy Singh feed his cocaine addiction. At the time of the film’s release, which as it is found itself in a world of back-and-forth owing to censorship woes, the drug abuse montages were labelled as way too raw by many. Many however, also argued that the graphic nature of the montages were needed to effectively get the message across.

Certain problematic scenes, irrespective of if they are labelled as such, unanimously or not, may actually be central to the film or series’ plot. That being said, there is a certain sense of responsibility and accountability that comes with being in the trade of making movies, particularly with regards to the type of impact and influence, content can have on audiences. Does that however mean, that the potential for creative reign in the industry is dead?

Which side of the debate are you on?

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