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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 19, Dated May 17, 2008

The Beatitudes Of A Bountiful Bhabhi

India’s first online pornstar amuses more than titillates, finds ANASTASIA GUHA

Dhak dhak The first frame from April’s edition
“The Adventures of a Travelling Bra Salesman”

COMICS HAVE A WAY of bypassing our critical and moral register and going right to the id. They have a way of getting into, and then staying in, the deepest recesses of the psyche. This is apparent from our frenzied interest in Savita Bhabi, India’s first animated Internet porn star. Created by the appropriately underground Deshmukh, Dexstar and Mad (whoever they may be, they are not telling — we did ask), Savita Bhabhi is growing to be a phenomenally popular pornographic comic strip. It has grown solely by word of mouth to 3911 registered users in little over a month since its inception. The lead character has been drawn with every Kserial bahu trapping firmly in place: the dull gleam of a mangalsutra, sindoor forming a bright contrast to long dark hair parted chastely down the middle.

Right from the start, you can see the creators of Savita Bhabhi are a clever lot. The format is a daily serialisation based on a monthly theme. So far we have seen the tale of the “Travelling Bra Salesman”; this month the theme is “cricket” and the month of June has been earmarked for “visiting cousins”. The strips are posted in English with the promise of being available in six regional languages — Hindi, Telugu and Gujarati amongst others. Pornography is so readily available that this serialised version is a good idea; there is an economy of anticipation. We forget that Dickens never wrote a novel that was published in full, at least initially.

Right away, part of Savita Bhabhi’s appeal lies in its technicolour combination of debauchery and irony. And then there is the bhabhi — a particularly fetishised woman in the Indian male psyche. Patricia Uberoi, a sociologist and author of Family, Kinship and Marriage in India, sounds amused when asked how an anthropologist would view the appeal of the bhabhi. “The brother-in-law and bhabhi in India have what anthropologists call a ‘joking relationship’. He is traditionally her confidante, her ally; the cultural license in this sort of relationship is almost institutionalised. This sort of layered response to a bhabhi just does not exist in the west.” So Savita Bhabhi really is an Indian product.

Uberoi cites the 90’s smash hit Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, a family film that sanitised a range of erotic relationships in popular culture. The film carried a whole erotic register just below its surface: the bhayya-bhabhi relationship was usefully immortalised in songs and purple sarees. Ronjon Bandhopadhyay, a prominent Kolkata-based journalist says, “Yes, of course, there are so many instances of this in literary history. Tagore had a relationship with his sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, who committed suicide when he got married. She was his muse.”

The bhabhi angle is a clever one. It combines an astute reading of the Indian sensibility with the ability to poke it in the eye. Graphic novelist Sarnath Banerjee is writing a book tentatively titled Libido, that will include factofiction tales of sexuality in India. He says, “Writing good pornography, or erotica, needs rigour and an understanding of humanity. You are an anthropologist looking at socio-psychology.” And Indians have a head start at being creative here since, Banerjee says, “You have to be repressed to write good pornography. For me, I was fascinated when I saw these prostitutes in Amsterdam, coming as I did from the usual anal middle class and its protected environment where sexy was Ms Peters, the geography teacher.”

PERHAPS BECAUSE the straitjacketed sexual environment in which literary erotica is hatched is so oppressive, it usually ventures into the truly outré and kinky sado-masochistic domain. Savita Bhabhi brings new stories for a new society. Bollywood and cricket dominating every part of cultural commentary has left little room for other sub-cultures. However, Banerjee sees things changing with the growth of a mass blogging culture.

The remarkable thing about Savita Bhabhi is its sense of fun. It is dripping in irony, poking fun at our most cherished visual memories. Lawrence Liang, a researcher at the Alternative Law Forum and a new media expert says, “It reminds me of the highly erotically charged Amar Chitra Katha artwork, with its delicate-looking, scantily clad apsaras.” Deskmukh’s bhabhi looks like something between a particularly nubile Amar Chitra Katha sylph and Lara Croft, possessed of a washboard abdomen and suspiciously large, appropriately heaving bosom.

Altaf Tyrewala, author of No God in Sight asks, “Have you seen Tashan or Race? Their themes sound fairly underground. And that is the problem: the mainstream in India has become so ludicrous and bizarre, cretins with subcultural aspirations have fewer boats to rock.” He sees the comic strip being stuck on an ironic track. “How far the joke can be stretched is something to be seen.”

The message boards on the website are rhapsodic in their unanimous approval of this venture by Messrs Deshmukh, Dexstar, and Mad. (Deshmukh writes the scripts while Dexstar and Mad do the artwork and design). One is curious about the identities of this suspiciously anglicised sounding group. From the message boards we glean that the animators are happy to read unsolicited scripts written by fans but that they have to be in English as they don’t understand Hindi. Given that the context within which they are trying to operate is making it hip to be Hindi, this is curious. On the one hand, their work seems meant for mass consumption by people who read bhasha erotica; on the other, it makes fun of the stereotypes those brigades enjoy.

Who are these people; should we be curious? “No”, says Tyrewala, ”In the unlikely event that SB unfolds into a profound commentary on the sexual consumerism of a post-colonial nation, I want the people behind Savita Bhabhi to guard their identities with their lives; it’ll just make a lot of business sense.”

Somewhere along the global narrative of pornographic culture a new plot is being charted. Savita Bhabhi does not mark “the coming of age of Indian pornography” but rather, a new irreverence in Indian popular culture. From our collective repression has emerged a work that aims to titillate lightly, while amusing vastly. Since when did sex become funny? Since 28th March 2008, when a precocious comic strip went live in cyberspace.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 19, Dated May 17, 2008

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