February 2002 Events
February 23, 2002

Split Wide Open

Co-presentation of Third I Underground South Asian Film Series and RedMoon Events.

New English Language Feature Film From Mumbai

Starring Rahul Bose and Laila Rouass

Soundtrack by Nitin Sawhney

After 50 years of being the world's largest democracy, 1 billion Indians are finally coming out. What happens when South Asians start talking about sex?

"Three years back, Dev Benegal and Upamanya Chatterji came across an agony-aunt column in a local newspaper. This set them on a voyage of discovery. A voyage encompassing the sexual fantasies of Indians, who, as India celebrated 50 years of independence, were celebrating by pouring out secrets about their sex lives through agony-aunt columns. At journeys end, Benegal and Chatterji came up with 'Split Wide Open'.



...It is not an expose' on the hypocrisy Indian society practices when it comes to sex. It is an exploration of relationships and how globalization effects them."

- Pankaj Kapoor, Times of India


Split Wide Open is the keystone of a new generation of English-language independent films coming out of South Asia. In the past two decades, a generation of Indian youth were weened on MTV, Top Gun, and the internet. As the new middle class comes of age, they are producing a new wave of counter-Bollywood cinema. Rather than the popular "running through a field, bottle-fight, forbidden love" template of popular Hindi cinema, these rebel filmmakers are exploring the taboos that the South Asian audience doesn't see on screen - without the song and dance. Split Wide Open openly explores contemporary issues such as global culture, the return of Non-Resident Indians searching for their roots, the gaping class divides of urban South Asia, sexual politics, and the criminal underworld of Mumbai. In a country where the on-screen kiss is forbidden, Split Wide Open unapologetically delves into the unsettling sex trade of young, low caste girls; explores queer relationships; and comments on exhibitionism in the age of globalization -- while maintaining a distinctly Mumbai aesthetic. It's the Sex, Lies, and Videotape of Mumbai at the new millennium. Exploring taboos has caused a stir, though. Split passed the Censors Board in 2000. However, in South Asia's shifting political landscape, the film was condemned as "anti-Indian" due to its brazen sexual content by Tarun Vijay, an RSS film reviewer who was seated on the National Film Awards Jury later that year.


Film Summary:

After 50 years of being the world's largest democracy, 1 billion Indians are finally coming out in the open. What happens when Indians start talking about sex? What happens in a land of extreme wealth and extreme poverty?


On the hot streets of Bombay KP- a hustler with a cell phone and a scooter, unlocks taps and sells water to the poor and Evian to the rich, while Didi, his adopted ten year old sister, stalks the traffic lights selling flowers to earn her next meal. Nan (Nandita) an expatriate Indian from London, hosts an exploitation television show where people come and in darkness talk about their secret sexual lives. The confessions are funny, kinky and sad. Welcome to Split Wide Open.


KP incurs the wrath of the Water Mafia don he works for, when he brokers a deal independently and is brutally punished. He returns home dispossessed of his belongings, his tenement and finds Didi missing. Television and the streets of Bombay meet when the worlds of KP and Nan collide. Searching for Didi on the mean streets of Bombay, KP learns that lost innocence can't be regained while Nan discovers that television is helpless against the tides and temptations of the city. Until a guest on the show offers a clue about the missing Didi. In search of Didi, KP gets enmeshed in different worlds from Nandita's show. Several stories emerge to form a vivid tapestry of the city. Nan's show becomes popular but the sensational confessions on her voyeuristic TV show are removed from reality and it's still television.


Sex and poverty mingle to question our notions of morality. Split Wide Open is about the new Indian and the profound changes taking place as the country tries to redefine its culture for the next century.


"One country, two worlds. That is what India and being Indian means to me. My film is about live TV, the hype of sex and the need to talk. About modern Indians who want to go out and form part of the globalization and other changes going on."

- Dev Benegal as told to Satish Nandgaonkar, Times of India, February 9 2000

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