Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 19, Dated May 17, 2008
|CULTURE & SOCIETY
Of A Bountiful Bhabhi
first online pornstar amuses more than titillates, finds ANASTASIA
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
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.