August 24, 2023
In the 1972 film Pakeezah, Salim (Raaj Kumar), a handsome forest ranger, accidentally enters the train compartment of the sleeping Sahibjaan (Meena Kumari), a dancer. As Salim sits down, Sahibjaan tosses in her sleep, inadvertently exposing her red alta-stained foot. The sitar romantically strums as Salim gazes longingly.
Over the next few hours, Salim can’t help but almost touch her feet, his hands lingering near her lower limbs. “Forgive me. I saw your feet, they’re very lovely. Don’t put them on the floor. They’ll get dirty,” Salim wrote in a love letter to Sahibjaan.
Hindi poets of the 16th century described a woman as beautiful by the anklet she wore. Many classical dances focus on footwork. In Bollywood, dance numbers hint at sex through close-ups of a woman’s foot. From literature to dance to cinema, it’s clear that South Asians have a complicated, and, yes, sensual, relationship with feet.