Malayalam cinema to whom Bollywood has already paid tribute. Sheila Ki Jawani is supposedly a homage to Smitha’s soft porn film, Layanam (1989), that got remade in Hindi as Reshma Ki Jawani in 2002. But in the single-screen theatres that would showcase adult entertainment of which Smitha and Shakeela were the divas, the word — porn — is now a forgotten word. And by implication, still as dirty.
The caretaker of Delhi’s Shalimar cinema, for example, says the last film that played here — before the hall shut down in 2010 — was a mainstream Bollywood film. The cinema’s old furniture reveals other screenings. A small board with a sly scrawl in white chalk on a wall, has the name and timing of Julia Darling -- clearly a film of ‘that kind.’ Multiplexes and the Internet have taken away patrons, says the staff. Even five years ago, adult films ran housefull in the mornings. (Last month, V Sunil, executive creative director of Wieden+Kennedy held an exhibition on Indian adult movie posters in Delhi. The exhibition was called, not surprisingly, Morning Show)
In Kolkata, about half the halls screening adult films have shut down. The dilapidated Pradip near Tollygunge Circular Road that screens Hindi and Malayalam adult films with tickets costing Rs. 21 (balcony) and Rs. 20 (rear stall) has survived.
The scenario is a reflection of what has happened to the Indian adult cinema. At their peak through the 80-90s, there are no takers for them as technology makes adult content freely available and social mores change and blur the lines between what is obscene and what is not, especially in mainstream Bollywood. V Sunil from Kerala, whose home state was once the soft porn capital with 14 to 20 releases every month, recalls that “unless you had relatives visiting from Dubai, this used to be our only source of adult entertainment 20 years ago.” “Just about 20 such films get made these days,” says K Hariharan, director of a Chennai film academy.
Film critics say the adult films era was triggered after the runaway hit of Avalude Ravukal (Her Nights) in 1978, a story on the life of a young sex worker starring actress Seema. Though the movie was a bold experiment by director IV Sasi, many took it as the cue to produce soft porn. After Smitha’s death, the industry had a new diva : Shakeela. By the late 90s, she had acted in more than 50 movies with similar storylines. Most of those productions were cheap; erotic scenes were cut and pasted from other movies. Especially foreign ones. KS Gopalakrishan, a veteran soft porn director, directed 98 such quickies.
“In Jaipur just two years back, I went to see a film called Saali Poori Gharwaali. Halfway through the film, we suddenly began watching Madonna’s Sex video and then went back to the film,” recalls writer Jerry Pinto.
Death of Porn New technology, rising production and exhibition costs plus competition from mainstream film industries have colluded to kill this one. On-screen exposure and the growing permissiveness in society have made it alright for film heroines to wear less clothes. In the times when Sheila does not mind ‘exposing’ her jawani, the Silk Smithas and Shakeelas would be lucky to get eyeballs. “I’ve heard that certain reasonably marketable Bollywood stars, work in soft porn films made as DVDs and CDs marketed in Dubai,” says film scholar Shoma Chatterji.
Indian porn’s near-death has been reached a few years ago, estimates trade analyst Cable Sankar. Rauf Ahmed, former editor of Filmfare, however, says these C-grade films on budgets of Rs. 15-20 lakh continue to be made in Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Bhojpuri. “Each time I pick up a new Trade Guide or Film Info, at least ten new films seem to be launched,” says Pinto.
Amitava Nag, editor of Silhouette, a Kolkata-based film magazine, makes a related point. While the soft porn industry has almost died in India, soft porn as entertainment has increased courtesy the Internet and the mobile boom.
How does our porn scene compare with the West? “The Indian porn scene has been skewed towards ‘male’ entertainment.
Psychologically, it’s more of a representation of dominance (most films have gang-rape scenes) and control of power than love-making,” says Nag. The porn industry is audited in the US, adds Pinto. “Records are kept. Awards are handed out. None of that happens here.”
With KV Lakshmana in Chennai and Ramesh Babu in Thiruvananthapuram