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Indian OTT Goes Bold, Not Beautiful

Gandii Baat 5 poster
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When AltBalaji launched their pathbreaking series, Gandii Baat, little did they know that it would set off a new genre in Indian film and television. The show, which featured tales of sex, kinks and fetishes in rural India was the spark that Indian streaming platforms needed to start making bolder content. “We’ve seen erotica before, but woh erotica humne sheher ke dekhe hai. You have a swimming pool, bikini-clad women, a champagne bottle, and muscular men. Nobody had seen erotica of real India. So, I thought why not make something for Bharat, instead of India,” says Sachin Mohite, the brain behind Gandii Baat to Man’s World Magazine. Mohite believes that issues that are explored in his popular franchise are taboo topics that people don’t believe to exist in small towns. Hence, Mohite has brought a new form of cinematography to Gandii Baat – there’s nothing aesthetic about the scenes shot. There are no rose petals or soft music. It’s raw and rugged, just like you’d expect a real sex scene to look like. Even the bed sheets aren’t made of silk or satin – they’re regular, floral bedspreads that you can get at the local market for ₹300. “There’s no compromising on the reality of it. Having said that, I don’t believe in nudity, I believe in titillation. The difference between Gandii Baat and the apps that have cropped up that follow this format, is that you will never find somebody naked in our show,” Mohite adds.

However, that’s unique to Mohite. Once Gandii Baat (financed and supported by TV’s Duchess Ekta Kapoor) released, it gave a silent nod to other producers to go all out in the quest for OTT’s version of TRP which is streaming minutes. You think AltBalaji is raunchy? You clearly haven’t heard of Ullu, HotShots, Primeflix, Nueflix aka Flizmov and Gup Chup. While a Gandii Baat depicts heaving bosoms held together by too-tight blouses, shows on Primeflix and others show everything – nipples and all. Earlier, the men got away with showing just their buttocks. However, with the rise in desi erotica and a global culture that is increasingly becoming adaptive towards nudity, even male actors have begun doing frontal shows. Many of these shows aren’t on apps simply because they’d fall under the government’s radar for indecent conduct. They are VODs or “video on demand” services where you pay a certain amount and rent a video for a period of time. There are two types of content on VODs – cut and uncut. The “cut” content is cheaper and showcases graphic sex scenes. The “uncut” content is more expensive and is actual pornography which shows scenes of fellatio, vaginal intercourse and sometimes, even anal intercourse.

“When the subscriptions increase, so does the revenue. We have shifted our headquarters from Uttar Pradesh to Brisbane. We are now coming up with new ventures. There are going to be around two more digital platforms under the Ullu banner that will go on air in the next six to eight months. From October 17, we’re also launching Ullu 2.0, which will have a premium segment. The valuation of this premium content is Rs 5 to 10 crore,” Ullu’s CEO, Vibhu Agarwal told MW last year. Agarwal had tapped into a growing business and had managed to earn enough to go international in a matter of two years. That is the power of desi erotica.

However, when we come to the actors, there are very few who feel liberated while doing these scenes. The reason they give is that unlike in award-winning and critically acclaimed movies where the sex scene is an integral part of the story, on VOD services, the sex scene is the story. It is, essentially, well packaged porn. Many actors choose to do these scenes not because they want to explore new artistic avenues but because they are in urgent need of financial help. Hence, it is not uncommon to find these actors on Grindr or other platforms where they are willing to have sex for money. Those actors who are managed by agencies or come through publicists are typically asked to refrain from participating in an AltBalaji or Ullu venture. A publicist who didn’t wish to be named said that talent managers in the industry are okay with their clients working with AltBalaji only because it has the backing of Ekta Kapoor who can help them in their career, going forward. Many popular television actors who were approached for this feature either flat-out refused to talk about the show or denied its existence. Many of these actors are popular television personalities who portray parampara purn purush in television soaps but are willing to go the full monty on Ullu. Even established actors like Ashmit Patel, Flora Saini and Parag Tiwari have been a part of this new wave of desi erotica.

However, they are still part of shows which explore sexuality in a novel form. Shows like Kavita Bhabhi on Ullu explore themes of homosexuality in rural settings. Gandii Baat has episodes on bisexuality, polyamory and more. The Bull of Dalal Street was Scam 1992 before Scam 1992 released but it never got mainstream coverage because of its explicit scenes. Rasbhari on Amazon Prime Video explored themes of multiple personality disorder and sex addiction and starred leading Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker. Bhasker’s show Flesh, on Eros Now, also showed a graphic homosexual sex scene in a nightclub’s bathroom which featured actor Akshay Oberoi.

Dubey Ji and the Boys on Ullu may seem frivolous but it depicts a stark reality – of men coming to Mumbai in the hopes of making it big, only to resort to prostitution or stripping to help pay the bills.

It is also true that these shows can change an actor’s life. Actor Anveshi Jain was almost penniless when she scored a starring role in the second season of Gandii Baat. At first, on hearing the script, she was aghast and fully aware that she had only gotten the role for her physical features. In fact, she says so in multiple interviews and adds that she even broke down during her first bold scene. However, Jain has now become a huge star on social media who earns crores based on Instagram promotions and even has her own app. However, while Jain was initially quite proud of the tag given to her – that of being desi erotica’s face – she has, in recent times, tried to distance herself from the image with not much success.

“I’m a little scared with the kind of apps that are coming in. There are people now who make an erotica in 20 days, and put it on air. I’m scared about the kind of content coming up because these will cause issues with censorship later. Although people are lapping up this kind of content now, it is spoiling the main intent that one started with — to tell stories that are taboo,” Mohite says and he is right to worry. With the new specifications laid down by the government regarding OTT platforms, makers of desi erotica have to either completely let go of their work or resort to launching them on VOD sites.


[Image Credit: ALT Balaji]