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The hidden world of ‘Gandii Baat’ casts lights on India’s erotic fantasies and desires

Gandii Baat came out in 2018, but is almost unknown among English-speaking audience in metropolitan India. And its runaway success makes it clear that sex is never just sex

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Threesomes, BSDM, prostitution on trains: This is a sexually explicit rural India that we do not know of, gritty, granular, and disturbingly real. Ever since Gandii Baat premiered on streaming platform Alt Balaji, promising “urban stories from rural India,” it has clocked an incredible six seasons. The show’s trailer has registered over 25 million views on YouTube.

And yet, Gandii Baat, which came out in 2018, is almost unknown among English-speaking audiences in metropolitan India. For the few who do know of it, the episodes—which have titles like ‘Tharki Buddha,’ or ‘Vasu Nag’—are mainly good for a joke about downmarket sleaze.

There’s a more complex story, though, that Gandii Baat’s runaway success should make us consider. Sex is never just sex: Pornography, a form that derives its power from depicting the forbidden and concealed, gives deep insights into the real desires of our society.

Also read: AltBalaji is the Netflix of the Ekta Kapoor world. And flaunts more than saas-bahu serials

The changing screens of popular fantasy

Listed among author Ziya Us Salam’s ode to Delhi movie theatres, Delhi 4 Shows: Talkies of Yesteryears, is Jagat, opposite Jama Masjid. While the building still exists, the hall was supposedly closed down over “allegations of soft porn clips being inserted in a dubbed foreign film.” One of the iconic moments in the song ‘Katiya Karun’ are the characters played by Ranbir Kapoor and Nargis Fakhri watching a C-grade movie in one of Delhi’s sleazy halls.

From Moti Talkies in Chandni Chowk to Regal in Connaught Place, theatres showing B-grade and C-grade films were part of Delhi’s, and India’s, cultural landscape. “It used to be like a rite of passage to watch a sleazy film in one of those shady halls, and hoot all the while,” says 44-year-old marketing executive Rishab Malhan.

“Rickshaw-wallahs and auto-wallahs would be watching,” remembers Rohan Sharma, a resident of Chandni Chowk. “Four of us once took an auto to Moti Talkies and later realised that our auto-wallah was also watching the same movie.”

This was part of a wider milieu of erotic pop culture, which included railway platform fiction like Mastram and Manohar Kahaniyan.

In the 1990s, though, movie theatres began to collapse, also killing off one of the few points of intersection for men of different social classes. Houseful movie halls, where men from all walks of life consumed voluptuous women, was replaced with a private viewing world, focussed around the mobile phone.

Gandii Baat marks the leap into the digital world of a kind of rural and small town soft-porn sensibility that was mistaken to have died.

Also read: Watching, publishing, sharing pornography: What is a crime in India and what isn’t

Desi erotic fantasies

While it’s tempting to judge people for watching desi soft-porn, the industry itself is huge, and the demand, even bigger. The starting point for understanding it is economics. A standard Netflix mobile subscription costs Rs 199 per month, while an Alt Balaji one  starts from Rs 100 for two months. The annual subscription is for Rs 300. That amounts to Rs 25 per month—the kind of money people once paid to watch a single B or C-grade film.

The second issue is to do with aesthetics. English-speaking élites also consume soft porn, just a different kind. ‘365 DNI’, ’Dark Desire’ and ‘Sex Life’ have created quite a stir internationally, and topped the most viewed charts even for India. While Sex Life is in English, ‘Dark Desire’ and ‘365 DNI’ are Spanish and Polish respectively.

Language is, of course, not the main issue for those looking for sex scenes online—but aesthetics are.

Kahaani important hota hai”, says Malati, a domestic help working in a Delhi locality, “the story matters.” She explains that many of her friends and co-workers watch these shows because it is not “fully nude,” and there is some story to it, unlike porn.

Rajat Bhardwaj, an Engineering graduate who studies in a college in Sonipat, Haryana, says many of his friends watch Gandii Baat, too. “They liked that it was desi—it felt familiar,” he explains.

Gandii Baat tells us something we shouldn’t have to be told: that people who can’t read English subtitles, and don’t have much money, also have fantasies and desires.  Gandii Baat’s episodes

Interestingly, Alt Balaji had launched a series called XXX, also in 2018. It focused on urban erotic stories but only lasted two seasons. Part of it could be the controversy it generated with one of its episodes, Pyar aur Plastic. Ekta Kapoor later deleted the scene and even apologised for it.

Also read: Cyber Sexy: My first tryst with understanding porn

Violence and soft porn

Perhaps mirroring the lives of its audience, violence and sex are closely interwoven in Gandii Baat. In the episode ‘Tharki Buddha,’ the father-in-law rapes his wife who is unwilling to participate in his sexual fantasies. Then, he murders his son so that he has access to his daughter-in-law.

Verbal violence is rampant, almost casually. “Ek glass doodh ke liye puri ki puri gayyiya apne sar baandh li,” asks one character, Dhudhiya, in a conversation with his friend, ‘why should we tie a cow to our head just for a glass of milk?’ The cow refers to a woman, and the remark is against getting married just for sex. The dialogue is disturbing and outrageous. And don’t we hear such statements in the context of women? Without a doubt.

Gandii Baat sometimes has women fight back against oppression, though. In ‘Tharki Buddha’, female solidarity leads women to kill a man. In ‘Vasu Nag’, women in a village create the ruse that they are being sexually violated by a snake to be able to live together with their chosen lovers.

“Between rural and urban is a huge audience called the urban mass which is what I’m actually catering to. Urban mass is the world between Netflix and Naagin, which is a lot of people,” said Ekta Kapoor. That is true about her TV serials as well, which while being trashed generate large amounts of money and are heavily watched.

Love it, hate it or ignore it, but Gandii Baat is the only series to trend on IMDB continuously for more than 100 days.

(Edited by Prashant)

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