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Porn is a multi-billion-dollar industry globally, but its scope remains throttled by bans in India, say insiders.

New Delhi: Shais Khan, a 23-year-old masseur from Delhi, has a dream. He wants to be the next Sunny Leone, an unabashed porn star not confined to the seedy underbelly that is the world of Indian adult cinema today.

“I’m crazy about my dream,” Shais, now a regular in Indian porn productions, told ThePrint. “I don’t have words to explain how crazy I am.”

Shais’ introduction to porn came five years ago, when he took up a job at a spa owned by French nationals. “I have been working here for five years, so my owners used to show me French (porn) videos…” he said.

The idea of performing porn instantly intrigued Shais, who began filming adult videos with the help of friends.

“There’s a profession for everything. There are schools for teachers and parlours for beauticians, but there isn’t a porn industry in India, so those who want to pursue this profession have to find a way around it,” Shais said.

While he has become a recognisable face in the Indian gay porn industry, Shais is waiting for porn to be legalised in the country, when he would be able to show off his “diverse skill set”.

A big market

Studies show the Indian market is big enough to make porn a viable career option for the likes of Shais.

The sixth annual review conducted by Pornhub, released recently, showed that Indians love to watch porn, with the country accounting for the third highest daily traffic to the adult video site in 2018, behind only the US and the UK.

The same report suggested that nothing gets Indians quite as excited as seeing other Indians having sex: For the second year in a row, top searches for Indians contained the words ‘Indian’ or ‘Hindi’.

Pari Tomar, a YouTube star, made big bucks off soft-porn videos (a less sexually explicit variant) until March 2016, when significant changes to the portal’s monetisation and content policies rendered cleavage shots and heavy panting unprofitable.

“I used to work about 20-25 days a month, sometimes acting in up to eight short films a day,” she told ThePrint. While it was allowed, Pari charged Rs 15,000 for a day of work. “But now those films don’t get produced anymore, [as] they tell me they were getting too vulgar for the internet. So I do mostly comedy.”

Richa Kaul Padte, author of Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography, said Indians were looking for sexual content featuring Indians online. “And because we don’t have a porn industry in India, this demand is being fulfilled either by brown actors in American/Western porn, and by homemade porn — which is made, either consensually or non-consensually — by regular people in India,” she added.

However, Indian policy, experts say, has often been out of step with this reality.

Despite the fact that the demand for well-produced Indian porn is growing every year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) banned over 800 websites offering adult content in October, the censor board sanitises sexuality in Bollywood movies, and Section 67 of the IT Act criminalises “publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form” with imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh.

The reasons span from moral objections, to the belief that porn is a major driver of sexual crime, as evidenced in the Uttarakhand High Court order that led to the TRAI directive.

But experts and industry insiders say such bans deprive the country of a vast revenue source, while potentially turning a willing audience to portals offering illegal content.

“All the money is basically going into the pockets of international companies,” said Yash Juneja, a Jharkhand-based music store owner who also makes semi-porn films for private clients.

“They come shoot here, or Indians upload porn on their sites, and they earn all the advertisement and subscriber-based revenue,” he added.

The true potential of porn in India remains unexplored: Some estimates peg the global porn industry’s worth at $97 billion. The US, where porn is legal and users accounted for the highest daily traffic to Pornhub in 2018, is said to alone have a porn industry worth $10-12 billion.


Also read: Indian women are getting assaulted on Tinder dates and no one knows how to stop it


What the law says

Goutham Shivshankar, an advocate-on-record in the Supreme Court, told ThePrint that the “the primary target in Indian law is ‘obscenity’ and not ‘pornography’, except child pornography, which is specifically and separately dealt with under section 67B of the Information Technology Act, 2000”.

While Section 67 of the Act rules “publishing or transmitting obscene material in electronic form” a punishable offence, viewing or storing pornography in India is not illegal.

This means that you can make a sex tape and store it on your phone, and you are clear legally as long as you don’t upload it on a website or distribute it via email, WhatsApp or any other digital platform.

If porn were legal

“If India legalises porn, we would stand out as the largest consumers of porn in the world,” Vaibhav, an IT-consultant-turned-director who has worked on porn films, told ThePrint.

Legalising porn, he said, will ensure that India matches international standards, with the ensuing influx of capital and investment likely to bring Indian porn and its local purveyors out of the shadows and help them carve their own niche.

“The actors there (in the West) are doing it out of their own will. There is no desperation for money attached to it,” he said.

Jisko bhook lagi hui hai na, voh dhoondhta rahega jab tak uski bhook nahi mitti hai (A person hungering for something will continue to look for it till his desire is not satiated),” said Vaibhav.

He said legalisation will also help throttle exploitative sex. “Porn should be legalised… at least in the name of craft and art, because someone will not get molested,” he added.

One of the most substantial arguments in favour of legalisation rests on consent. At least in perception, the porn industry has been globally linked with human trafficking, rape and assault, and the dehumanisation of women as sex objects.

But Padte argues that decriminalisation will prevent such exploitation.

“There are so many reasons why decriminalisation is a good idea,” she told ThePrint, “From distinguishing between consensual and non-consensual content to creating safe spaces for sexuality to developing a range of sexual expressions — but I guess I would boil it down to the fact that criminalising sexual expression is a really bad idea.”

“It doesn’t ‘protect’ anyone,” she added. “All it does is push the whole thing underground, which means that where violence does take place, we don’t have mechanisms in place to address it.”


Also read: This is how sugar daddies and sugar babies find each other in India these days


The status right now

As it stands today, the porn industry in India largely works under the disguise of various “legitimate” professions – Several photographers, modelling agencies, massage parlours and smaller production houses supplement their day jobs with the recession-proof padding that porn provides.

Aungshita Chatterjee, 43, has dreams of becoming an international boudoir photographer, and while her aim may be a legal one, she tells ThePrint that “at some point, a lot of the other photographers discovered that their DSLRs come with an in-built video option”.

“So yes, porn is being made — in bedrooms and guest houses and studios, and it’s uploaded on international servers or sold to clients from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Russia, and the United Kingdom through brokers,” she said.

According to Aungshita, who says she was also once offered $75,000 by an American producer named Cedric to shoot a porn film with Indian models, the porn industry is pan-India, with behind-the-scenes producers operating from Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, and “especially the south”.

But TRAI bans websites with pornographic content that are hosted on Indian domains — so where does one upload these films?

According to Sameer, a Chennai-based filmographer who acts as the logistical matchmaker between a porn producer and a model in south India, Indians have found a way to circumvent even that obstacle. “Everything is uploaded on Twitter, Tumblr and xvideos,” he told ThePrint. When asked what happens in these movies, he said, “Direct sex.”

South India is where the money is, added Juneja, because actors are easier to source, more willing to take risk on screen, and “less likely to throw tantrums or be afraid of backlash from society”.

Sameer said at least a hundred such movies are produced monthly in the south, with actors getting paid up to Rs 50,000 per movie. The films are usually 50 minutes long and the whole production costs between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 10 lakh.

However, much of Indian porn is defined by hand-held cameras, mobile phones balanced against a wall, mirrors, and low resolution, which doesn’t seem to be satisfying viewers increasingly seeking out high-definition content.

According to the Pornhub report, ‘HD’ or ‘high-definition’ emerged as a popular keyword in searches keyed in by Indians.

In response to a report on ThePrint about the Pornhub review, a Reddit user claimed he had been “looking for Desi HD for about ten years. It’s just not there”.

“The best you get is a guy/gal with a good mobile phone,” he wrote.

Everything apart, experts and insiders say the consequences of an underground industry can be severe. Informal productions don’t entitle actors to health check-ups, salary standards, or protection from exploitation.

Even someone like Shais, who says that his years in the sex industry had forced him to develop a thick skin, knows everyone cannot be trusted.

He recalls paying a friend Rs 30,000 for a film he was told would be shot with good equipment.

But a few days after the payment, the friend disappeared. His phone was switched off and the money was gone.


Also read: Behind Grindr India lies a world of sexual assault, rape and blackmail


 

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3 Comments Share Your Views

3 COMMENTS

  1. Sure, why not … as the article says, everything is about money, India is a booming market worth tens of billions and its time for us to join the big league and exclusive club of nations who have porn stars of their own (just as it is with becoming permanent members of the UN Security Council, having inter-continental ballistic missiles and so forth, I suppose). Of course, if kids grow up watching porn that’s OK, thats a small price to pay for the billions we will all earn! India is shining …. not only in terms of money but also the increasingly high moral standards, sensibility, wisdom and refinement of taste apparent in our thought leaders!

    • I know. We have already reached the moral and economic peak in terms of children who are not hungry, safety of women, Bollywood stars who get convicted to still moderate stupid tv shows and chief ministers who think cows are more important than people. Porn and Nehru are to be played for everything.

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