I recently watched Basu Bhattacharya’s Anubhav, one of his movies about marriages gone sour. During a flashback sequence showing the couple (Sanjeev Kumar and Tanuja) in happier days, they are joking around playfully together, and in the next cut Tanuja’s bindi is smudged across her forehead.
We all know what that means: smeared sindoor is the universal filmi symbol for “sex ho gaya”. I’ve seen it before, on Jaya Bhaduri’s forehead in Abhimaan, among others. But it got me thinking. Film is a visual medium, and directors use all sorts of visual shorthand to advance the narrative or transmit aspects of their characters. For me, part of the fun of watching Hindi films has been learning to read this cinematic language and interpret its signs, especially what they convey about women characters.