And now, Bollywood's boys dare to bare

When Salman Khan did it, he raised many an eyebrow, but now Bollywood actors are slowly shedding their inhibitions about stripping on screen with a slew of films glorifying the male form.

Except for Dharmendra in O.P. Ralhan's "Phool Aur Pathhar" in the 1960s and Feroz Khan in "Kashmakash" in the 1970s, no mainstream leading man was willing to strip for the camera... until shirtless wonder Salman Khan shook things up.

After Salman, beefcake acquired a new legitimacy in Hindi cinema. Now, with models turned actors John Abraham, Dino Morea and Himanshu Malik ready to strip "if the role demands it", male nudity is certainly not taboo.

Avant garde superstar Rahul Bose, who has willingly taken off his clothes for Dev Benegal's "English August" and "Split Wide Open", feels that male stars stripping for the camera is a "very European/independent cinema" thing.

"In Hollywood too it's more acceptable for women than men to strip, though actors like Harvey Keitel and Ewan MacGregor have done the full monty," he said.

Bose was the first male star in India to go nude for the camera.

Observes Bose: "It's strange but today taking one's shirt off is considered nudity. In fact to this day I remain the only one who has taken his pants off on camera. "

"Obviously, since I was shown masturbating in 'English August', I couldn't do it with my clothes on."

Bose says the scene from "English August" was a perfectly plausible situation for nudity, "though hardly titillating since there were nine Malayalee crew members staring balefully at my efforts to simulate sexual arousal under the sheets".

In Benegal's "Split Wide Open", Bose did two nude scenes, including a controversial sequence of a priest lusting after Bose's character.

The love sequence with model Laila Rouss was interesting for turning the gender equation during lovemaking around. While Bose was made to strip, the woman remained fully dressed.

"It was that imperialistic thing all over again. The white woman subjugating the brown man...," the actor wryly remarked.

Himanshu Malik also showed some skin in an eyebrow raising beach scene in "Khwahish".

"It was a frolic-on-the beach scene, and I was wearing bikini briefs. What was so sensational about it?" argues Malik, sounding exactly like Fardeen Khan, who did an impromptu strip with Celina Jaitley in "Janasheen".

Vikas Sethi, who played a male stripper in Deepak Tijori's "Oops", says he has no qualms about shedding his clothes.

"If women have been made to take off their clothes for films since time immemorial, it's about time we guys were subjected to the same treatment. I'd be willing to go all the way for a dream role, like Richard Gere in 'American Gigolo', though not for any sleazy film."

John Abraham, who had disrobed without inhibitions for Bipasha Basu in "Jism", is back to being the beefcake in Pooja Bhatt's "Paap".

He has no qualms about stripping for the camera.

"Having walked the ramp I guess one gets used to the curious gaze, male or female. I'm most unselfconscious about my body and don't mind taking my clothes off. But within limits."

But for every John there's an Akshay Kumar, who recently disrobed for a sauna scene in "Talash". "I was so shy and self conscious doing it, I've decided, never again."

With a surfeit of films exploring the man-woman relationship in sensuous detail, Hindi cinema is bound to increasingly project the male protagonist as more than a mere bystander in the act of seducing the audience.