Gokul's blog: Shakeela, Sunny Leone, and the 'porn' identity

This independence day, we're a few steps closer to embracing 'adult' stars in the mainstream. Or are we?

Gokul's blog: Shakeela, Sunny Leone, and the 'porn' identity

 

The movie stopped abruptly. And then, the action began.

The cinema was called Jothi, located on GST Road in Chennai. And it wasn't the only one screening erotic movies - there were, and are, many, in each town and each city.

This genre of content was otherwise accessible once only if you owned (or could rent) a VCR/VCP - and the local video casette library owner or assistant knew you well enough to lend you the 'XXX' tapes.

These screens have for long been showing Indian-made soft porn, or foreign movies, with or without the 'bit' 'blue film' included. Those posters are still around, so one assumes the trade is still thriving. Today, with the internet at home and in our palms, there's no dearth of access to such content. And we're asking for it, according to some surveys. (Did we really need a survey to tell us that?)

Back in the days when cinemas like Jothi were the sole 'distributors' of audio-visual sexcitement for the aam aadmi, Shakeela was not a household name. At least, it wasn't a name that was uttered aloud at home.

She was one of many 'A film' stars whose movies hordes of young - and middle aged, and old - men flocked to. The viewers' entries and exits were clearly attempts at being as inconspicuous as possible. The same movies dubbed into Hindi - and not sure how many other languages - were on screens all across. There was absolutely no need for linguistic feud. Harmony prevailed as men became one with her on-screen performance.

Shakeela is a household name in South India today. She shares screen space as a 'character artiste' with the likes of Vijay, a popular Tamil film star. In one film, she even plays herself - a B-grade (or is it C? let's make it 'adult') film star. And before you get imaginative, she's his landlord in the film, and there's no skin on show. Sometimes the domestic help, sometimes a relative, Shakeela often adds to the comedy track that is an inevitable part of mainstream South Indian cinema.

She must qualify as the original 'crossover' star ahead of Sunny Leone, given that 'soft' is the best kind of adult entertainment whose production is legally permitted in India. She even appears in a couple of commercials, I am told, though haven't seen one myself. So while all this brouhaha about Sunny Leone goes on all around, let's not forget Shakeela and her ilk.

Having said that, do the cases of both Shakeela and Sunny Leone tell us that as a society, we're beginning to shed a bit of our double standards in accepting 'adult' stars into the mainstream? That's what some 'opinion leaders' are suggesting.

I recall several middle aged men leaving Jothi with their faces covered. That was another era. But even today, we have elected representatives of people inviting Sunny Leone to add oomph to dahi handis - only to be criticised for inviting a 'porn star' to such a celebration.

Sixty five years post freedom, we're still not there yet - in terms of shedding our selective acceptance of women from the adult industry in the mainstream. But Shakeela and Sunny Leone are signs that we're getting there.

They've been aided in no small measure by media. If Shakeela has cinema to thank, for Leone, it must be television - and a whole lot of media that it fed.

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3 October 2014