[VoxSpace Selects] The Sex Quotient : Women In The South Indian Soft Porn Industry

The Rise Of The Dirty Picture

If you have come across the poster of any South Indian film, especially from the 90s, marked as grade-B (aka soft porn) then the general idea of such posters would not be unfamiliar to you. Usually, the centre of the posters of a B-grade Malayalam film is a semi-naked plump woman thriving with apparent ecstatic expressions along with a shirtless man who has his lips and hands wrapped around the woman’s body in an erotic fashion.

There has been a huge leap in the early years of the South Indian film industry, where films have transitioned from not showing sex on screen at all to the projection of women as erotic and sexual objects. From limiting sex to movements under the sheets and behind flowers and bushes, the south Indian film industry took a bold leap towards films with titles like Qatil Jawani, Biwi Anadi Sali Khiladi and Kaam Tantra.

However, tracing back to the beginning of the soft porn industry in the southern part of India, the popular industry probably broke the glass ceiling with the film “Avalude Raavugal” or “Her Nights”. The beginning is nothing more than a cliché involving the ubiquitous white shirt where the rain-drenched heroine is left with nothing but a white shirt lent to her by the hero.

Moving from one cliché to another next comes the one that is described by writer Jayakumar as “the story of an adolescent’s sexual obsession with an older woman and his subsequent triumph during a summer vacation.”

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Finally, the modus operandi to any successful soft porn film came into the scene, where the women characters demonstrated a proclivity towards cleanliness, as Jayakumar writes again, “constantly bathing, draped in white towels, while the male characters indulged in voyeurism.”

Once the formula was set, gradually, the soft porn film industry took South India by storm and raised artists like Silk Smitha, Shakeela and Reshma, dazzling the screens with their sizzling performances. In fact, by the millennium, 65% of the films of Kerala belonged to the soft porn industry.

The Transition From The Subtle To The Bold

With the emergence of the 1970s, the subtle and roofed romances began to make way for darker themes surrounding sexuality, however, with careful balance. “Punarjanmam” or “Reincarnation” is a Malayalam film that has been marked as the “First erotic psychic thriller in the history of Indian cinema.”

The plot of the movie exposed a theme of Oedipus complex surrounding a man who demonstrated inability in having sex with his partner, for the wife appeared to him as his mother each time they would try consummating their relationship. By 1990, the Malayalam and Tamil films took an edgy turn towards commercial bold films, that practically claimed the title of the soft porn.

These commercial movies were loaded with dialogues reeking of sexism and crude lyrics objectifying women. The definitive form of objectification came through the dance form commonly known in Tamil as “club dance”. These showed women dancing in scanty clothing while men slobbered over them. The women dancers cast in these roles became stereotyped more than often and were never cast for any other role.

The old appearances of the heroines changed drastically. The heroines were made to wear shorts and skimpy clothing, with a wide portion of their midriff showing along with small but noticeable portions of the cleavage. They were required to behave in vulgar and erotic ways around the hero. These roles came to be popularly known as “glamour roles”.

The soft porn of the South Indian film industry demonstrated an obsession with accentuating the physical parts of the actresses in an offensive and voyeuristic way. One of the most popular erotic shot in these films was the one where a spinning totem twirled and swivelled on the heroine’s navel who writhed and squirmed in an ecstatic pleasure as the movement of the totem apparently tickled and delighted her. The other major obsession that the soft porn industry of South India had with the female body was her midriff.

The heroes of the films frequently stroked, caressed and pinched the midriffs of the heroines in both bedroom scenes as well as the dance and music routines.

The content of these films began to become increasingly eroticized, colourful and glamorized with each passing day. Heroines were often seen wearing swimsuits and diving into pools and swimming while the camera focused in a lascivious manner on the buttocks and the bosoms of the heroines.

The Scandalous Woman Of The Soft Porn Industry Of South India

It can be taken for granted that the Kerala industry of the soft porn, with the notable star faces like Reshma and Shakeela, has been responsible for the dilution of empathy towards the female gender and has in fact given a platform to promote conservative attitudes. With respect to physical appearances, the women of the South Indian soft-porn industry bear no contest to the stereotypically wheatish in complexion and slim in structure Bollywood actresses.

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Shakeela

In terms of acting career, the talent and performances of the women working with the soft porn industry of South India have never been under serious discussion. However, the plump body, wide hips and heavy bosoms of these undervalued heroines have attracted crowds more than any Bollywood heroine has ever done. But what is to be wondered about is, how do the images of these women function within the structure of the South Indian soft porn film.

In retrospective, it is, in fact, all connected with the politics associated with the framework. The framework that is conditioned, both structurally and mentally, into exposing and unlocking the conservative notion of the “Malayali” or the “Mallu” posing questions on the masculinity, that is epitomized in the soft porn film in South India.

 

A perfunctory glimpse of the soft porn films of the 1980s would expose the industry’s obsession with the heavy breasts and hips, a trope emulated in the most popular soft porn heroine of the era, Silk Smitha.

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‘Silk’ Smitha

Keeping aside the physical preferences, most of the women in these films are stereotypically subjected to similar situations where the heroines are demonstrated to be at least 25 years old and about to reach the prime of their lives, where at the height of their hormonal desires, they are in desperate need for sexual intimacy.

It is as if their sole objective is to seduce and be seduced. Their desires are represented to be starting at sex and ending at sex. For them, there is no world beyond sex –no warm desires for a family, a relationship or even a friendship for that matter. Quite tragically, it is as if, they have always known, since the start, that their desires and their existences function outside the security of the moral law and social acceptability.

They are nothing but symbols of deviation from this moral law –incestuous mature woman pining for her younger cousin, a maidservant surrendering to the erotic desires of her master –they are women of scandals. The message in its entirety is undoubtedly clear. The scandalous woman is an outlaw, an antithesis of the moral law. She is what one calls evil and is unearthly.

Restructuring Of The Gender Framework In The Soft Porn Of South India

The Malayalam soft porn, quite astonishingly, restructures and alters the functional framework of the hero and the heroine. While in the mainstream cinema, be it Mollywood, Bollywood or Hollywood, it is the hero who forms the crux of the plot.

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(L) Shakeela (R) Smitha

Reversing this concept, in the Malayalam soft porn, let aside the hero, even the very concept of the hero is expendable. The heroine and her vibrant sexuality are at the heart of the film and every other character is insignificant.

Commenting on this, Julie Rage, one of the most celebrated porn stars states, “Guys buy the tapes to see us… There are a few really good women actors, but mostly when you go to see a movie it’s because of the guy. In adult movies, you go to watch the pretty girl get naked and nasty.”

Jenna Jameson, another superstar of the porn industry comments, “It’s the only industry out there, mainstream or adult, that the women make more than the men.”

All in all, even though it is not an appreciation for the potential of the South Indian soft porn industry, it is merely to note that an industry that incessantly objectifies women to the most inappropriate extents, contains within it domains and platforms that is solely more female dominated, than platforms that are otherwise less objectifying.

The Thin Line Between Sexism And Sexuality

However, that does not take away the fact the Malayalam soft porn has based deep into its content sexist attitudes towards the sexuality that they very openly produce.

In the light of this issue, Revathi, a Tamil and Malayalam actor complains, “Why are we so obsessed with women’s bodies anyway? When we talk about sexism, we keep talking about the same things. What we need is gender sensitization of everyone involved with the film industry… not just scriptwriters or directors or lyricists or actors… But everyone. Only then will we get change.”

Sexism within sexuality in the soft porn of South India is a dubious concept when you compare stances.

Khushbu, another actress of the Malayalam soft porn states, “Look, I am a professional actor. I do what is required of me to make my character come alive. If I have to wear a swimsuit, I wear it. Not just because I love swimming, which by the way I do, but because obviously, I can’t jump into the swimming pool wearing a nine yards sari. I never liked to wear low cut blouses because of my figure. But sometimes, even with the best of precautions, the director or costume designer would insist the scene required it and the cameraperson would choose to shoot from a certain angle, and when you saw the final outcome, you would think, ‘Oh No!’, but, by then, there is nothing much you can do.”