How smartphones killed the C-grade movie industry

The smartphone and handy cam generation started churning out clips that took thousands of Indian men away from the small seedy theatres.

The smartphone and handy cam generation started churning out clips that took thousands of Indian men away from the small seedy theatres. (representative image)
They used to be called 'bits' but their promise of big-time exposure was what drew thousands of Indian men to small seedy theatres. Afraid of scissorhand censors, producers had a neat dodge - they shot separate reels of steamy bits and spliced it with the movie being screened.

Ashim Ahluwalia, the maker of Miss Lovely which was set in the Indian adult film industry of the 1980s, says the first documented desi porn film was called Bombay Fantasy. "A Mumbai-based producer got it made on an original U-matic tape. This film was different from B- or C-grade cinema - the latter at least had some narrative. Here, it was just raw sex," says Ahluwalia.

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Director Atanu Ghosh, who researched this industry for the making of 'Tokhon Teish' starring Paoli Dam as an adult actress, says films of great Western masters were initially screened as porn clips in shady theatres in Kolkata. "Roman Polanski's Bitter Moon was screened as a porn film in Howrah theatres. Some X-rated scenes were abruptly introduced during the screening," says Ghosh.

Reel them in

In Bangladesh, such scenes were called 'gorom masala' and were shot by small-time actors. "Certified copies of regional adult films wouldn't have these scenes. They would stop short at showing a man eyeing a girl (never the lead actress of the film). The 'bits' would have explicit scenes of the girl bathing and would be attached latter to the main film. Just before police raids, exhibitors would chop off those scenes and throw the reels out of the window. Later, these regional films were dubbed in Hindi," Ghosh says.
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Of bawdy boudis

Digitization changed everything. The sale of 'garam' videos at Delhi's Palika Bazar and Kolkata's Chandni Market dropped. The smartphone and handy cam generation took over and started churning out MMS clips and 'honeymoon' and 'bhabhi' videos daily in India. "We switched from a professional underground adult industry, where you had regular producers and directors, to an amateur, smartphone production model of desi porn," says Ahluwalia.

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Indian viewers soon began feasting on titillating 'genres' like 'tadapti jawani', 'Indian college' and intriguing 'Indian teacher'. In recent years, international porn sharing websites have become the biggest distributors of desi content. Xvideo and Xhamster sites have clichéd regional tags like 'Mallu bhabi', ' Bengali boudi' and 'Tamil college student'. The 'Bengali boudi', for instance, features a woman wearing the identifiable white conch shell and red 'pala' bangles seducing a man into kissing and fondling her.
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The production value is zero and infrastructure costs are minimal; all you need is a room and two consenting adults. This means the profit margins are huge.

The videos have no storyline. Interestingly, the background score for some of these videos is often Western music. "Most women who 'act' in these videos know what they are getting into. They are unlike the older adult stars - Devika, Shakeela, Silk Smita and Reshma. The newer entrants are willing to strip completely," says Ghosh. There is no acting here, just the act.
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Digitization also means more money for this cottage industry. A viewer doesn't have to pay but clicking on the video ensures monetary benefits for the site and the supplier. One such site lures people thus: "Your video content can make you money without having to sell memberships, minutes or paid downloads... You could benefit from the banner ads around your videos… Fifty per cent of the revenue made from the views and clicks to your videos will be shared with you."

Bits to bytes

A popular sex website lures viewers to "live webcam chat with real Indian girls in your area". But before you enter the site, you have to agree to three conditions. First, "don't tell anyone even if you recognize the girls. She may be your neighbour or your friend's girlfriend". Second, "the girls … are not prostitutes, they are just normal local girls who love to chat and meet new people online". Third, "Never give credit gifts to the girls! If you do, they may send you naked photos of themselves and you might get into trouble."

So what happened to the 'bits' industry? Ahluwalia knew someone who used to be a ladies casting agent for C grade 'bits'. "I heard that he had been arrested for making porn," he says.

However, Bhojpuri producer Abhay Sinha insists that desi adult content still has takers. "Local music companies spend Rs 25,000 a day on video shoots. At least four songs with double meaning lyrics are shot in a day and converted to MP3 Bhojpuri albums. No one censors these videos with voluptuous women in wet sari scenes," says Sinha. Even today, a 'hot song album' is sold at Rs 25. Sinha's research says at least 100 such albums are made each year.
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