Of late, Bollywood seems to have overdosed on Viagra.
The film industry’s raunchy side is set to play out at the cinemas the next two Fridays. On Jan. 22, the threequel in the sex comedy series, Kyaa Kool Hain Hum, will hit theatres, followed by another adult-rated film, Mastizaade, the week after.
In Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3, actors Tusshar Kapoor and Aftab Shivdasani play porn stars who stage themselves and a bunch of other porn models as one big family to impress a traditional Indian father. Mastizaade, on the other hand, stars Kapoor and comedian Vir Das as self-proclaimed “sex addicts”, and pornstar-turned-actress Sunny Leone.
Though they are not new to India, there’s now a regular churning out of sex comedies in Bollywood. This prompted Leone, who quit the porn industry in 2013 but remains the most searched pornstar in India, to term 2016 as “the year of adult comedies.”
“I think these movies are going to set a standard for comedy,” Leone said in December.
A sort of revival in Bollywood sex comedies took place when the first installments of the lucrative Masti and Kyaa Kool Hain Hum franchises hit screens in 2004 and 2005, respectively. Both films were replete with double entendres, cross-dressing acts, phallic symbols, and casual objectification of women.
“Box office. That’s why things happen in Bollywood,” film critic Anupama Chopra told Quartz. “Most of the past adult comedies have been able to recover their money.” However, the return on satellite TV rights has been comparatively low. “This genre is not for satellite television, so producers have to ensure that the film is budgeted properly,” trade analyst Komal Nahta told Mid-day.
Among Bollywood filmmakers, there’s an apparent shift in focus from making “pan-Indian family films to niche films targeted at men, especially younger men,” according to Tula Goenka, a filmmaker and professor at Syracuse University, New York. In a society where sex is still a taboo subject, adult films appear to be “a natural progression.”
“This is one of the reasons why internet pornography is so pervasive in India, even though the current government unsuccessfully tried to block more than 850 websites recently,” Goenka said.
In the last decade, India has produced several sophomoric and juvenile sex comedies. And in most of them, well-endowed, bikini-clad women are typically cast opposite sexually deprived men. Over the course of the story, the men emerge as sex machines.
“There are plenty of jokes on the male anatomy in that (Mastizaade) trailer but, and I hardly blame you… you noticed the bits about the female anatomy. That’s conditioning. Strip a man, nobody notices. Put a willing woman in a bikini and everybody screams murder,” Rangita Pritish Nandy, producer of Mastizaade, told Scroll.
But film critics aren’t impressed. “These films are appalling. I am not afraid of sexual content in films. But right now, the writing is pathetic. My beef is that they are not creating great comedies. Let’s have witty stuff, not so puerile,” Chopra said.
Passing the censor board
The prevalence of sex comedies in Bollywood makes it hard to ignore the Indian censor board’s double standards.
“I am surprised at the hypocrisy of the censor board, which lets films with such overtly sexual content pass, and yet cuts down a rather chaste kiss in Spectre. Isn’t vulgarity more offensive than direct physical contact?” Goenka said.
The Indian censor board follows the archaic practice of hacking anything—audio or visual—that it finds vulgar or offensive. Last November, it faced criticism over the bizarre move to reduce the duration of the kissing scenes by half in the latest James Bond flick.
The board, many said, was easy on Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3. But Kapoor clarified that it had taken “a fair decision.” India’s information & broadcasting ministry has, meanwhile, questioned censor board chief head Pahlaj Nihalani for passing the film.
“When we are strict with the vulgar content, we were called prudes… So, we certified some films with scenes and dialogues that we would otherwise have never passed as they went against our guidelines,” Nihalani said in his defence.
Mastizaade’s Nandy said the censor board made the film “far more mainstream.”
It helped to “make our film more acceptable as well as grew our film’s audience from that of an adult comedy watching audience to that of a general grown-up comedy watching audience,” she told Scroll.
But the problem lies elsewhere—in censorship per se. “India’s censor board lacks a coherent vision and a proper system,” Chopra said.
Currently, a panel headed by filmmaker Shyam Benegal has been put in place to revamp the censor board. “India needs to change the way films are certified. We need to have a system like the MPAA ratings in the US. Films are categorised by what is considered appropriate for different age groups, and the audience (especially parents) can then determine what they want to be exposed to,” Goenka said.