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How Meerut is fast becoming to porn what Kota is to private tutorials

Ullu, Kooku, DesiFlix, Hot Shots, Primeflix, Gup Chup, Flizmov and a host of such platforms have millions of Indians absorbed throughout the day and night with their high erotic content, much of it shot in Meerut. Wife in a Metro, Kavita Bhabhi, Call Centre and Mona Home Delivery are among the shows that have Indians glued to their screens.

December 31, 2020 / 06:25 PM IST

A burgeoning porn market — probably India’s largest — is thriving in Meerut, a town that once gained fame for the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny but now supplies the bulk of erotic films to India’s lesser known Over The Top (OTT) platforms.

The films are directed by youngsters trained in Mumbai, or Bollywood, the world’s largest film factory. The units carry no banners and work from hotel rooms or rented apartments on budgets as low as Rs 1,25,000 to Rs 2,50,000 per episode. An estimated 50 to 75 films are produced in multiple languages from Meerut, a town considered holy by many because it lies sandwiched between the Ganga and Yamuna rivers.

Shot on DSLR cameras, the movies revolve around similar themes of a girl wooed by a delivery boy who lands up at her home to deliver food, or a lover who is also a classmate in college. The plots look similar, often copied from cheap South American sex videos.

Sometimes, a bit of horror is pushed into the script, sometimes religious songs randomly recorded from temples are laced into the films to boost their acceptability. Sometimes, it is about a housewife frustrated because of the lack of sex and pawing the male servant at home.

The actors are mostly from Tier-II and Tier-III cities with ambitions to make it big in either Bollywood or Southern India.

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Erotic movies have been on a high ever since the Indian government forced a 21-day lockdown period in 2020. “Soft porn, hard porn is pushed into almost every movie on OTT platforms. "Smaller OTT platforms are increasingly relying on erotic content, it is both soft and hard porn," says Delhi-based filmmaker Sumit Shaw.

Shaw says Ullu, Kooku, DesiFlix, Hot Shots, Primeflix, Gup Chup, Flizmov and a host of such platforms have millions of Indians hooked throughout the day and night with their high erotic content. “It is like multiple PornhubIndians are enjoying it like never before,” says Shaw, adding that people are using virtual private networks (VPNs) to access websites like Pornhub and other adult entertainment portals. The only difference between Pornhub and these OTT platforms is that Pornhub has made its premium content free worldwide, while the OTT platforms charge a moderate fee from subscribers.

KPMG said in a 2019 report that India’s online video market is potentially one of the most exciting markets and businesses in the world. It said it is estimated that "India will have more than 500 million online video subscribers by FY 2023, and this would make it the second biggest market in the world behind China alone." The report said in India, the internet video traffic is projected to reach 13.5 Exabytes (EB) per month by 2022, up from 1.5 EB per month in 2017; with video contributing 77 per cent of all internet traffic by 2022.

"As India witnesses the change in the definition of mass general entertainment, movies and sport are likely to be ‘driver content’ and digital original series would likely be an important tool in defining this transition in culture. A déjà vu of what India saw in the early days of cable television this universe is going to be divided into ‘the bundled’ and ‘the a-la-carte’ model,"said KPMG.

In 2018, India banned hundreds of porn websites, a move that was followed by the downloading of VPNs. But the OTT platforms functioned with ease. “There is always this argument that what you think is porn is art for the actor and director. So, the movies are flourishing out of Meerut,” adds Shaw. Porn and Meerut have become hip hop, claim those who regularly watch such shoots. A singular search on the web for Meerut and porn produces a whopping 959,000 results.

On an average, a 12- or 24-part episode can be produced with a Rs 24 lakh or Rs 50 lakh budget, with the producers making approximately Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 crore per film. The budget may sound ridiculously low by Bollywood standards but suits the fly-by-night filmmakers who make four to five movies per year. Expectedly, the small OTT platforms are seeing a large growth in customers.

Ullu lists titles such as Call Centre, Kavita Bhabhi (one of the top five most watched web series during the COVID-19 quarantine in Asia), Mastram (which garnered several lakh views) Palang Tod, Taxi, Wife in a Metro, Charmsukh, Mona Home Delivery.

And the rates, in comparison with a Netflix of Amazon, are mind boggling. It is Rs 198 for a year and Rs 144 for six months. A three-month subscription is Rs 99 and you can have a five-day package for Rs 36 only. “It is creativity, it is realistic, it is not only sex, it is original content. It is all about you and me, what you see every day at home and in public,” Vibhu Aggawal, promoter of Ullu, and CEO and founder of steel company Jaypeeco India, said in a telephonic interview.

Anirudh, a producer whose platform Big MovieZoo launched Mary Aur Marlow says it woiuld be wrong to call these movies high on erotic content. "Each movie has a storyline. Mary Aur Marlow has loads of comedy, it of course has some bold scenes. But it is a work of art." He says he offers two offline videos for Rs 69, five offline videos for Rs 119 and 10 offline videos for Rs 399. His other popular movies are Redlight, Paap and Sattebaaz.

Lucknow-based Aggarwal said he deliberately kept the rates of his OTT platform low so that millions across the country could watch it. “This is entertainment; I am not violating any rules. Each movie has a wonderful storyline, which Indians are loving. I do not see any problem here.” Aggarwal said he has nearly 5 million subscribers across 100 countries and that, by any industry standards, is a creditable achievement.

Launched in December 2018, Ullu is notorious for its erotic content. Market sources say Aggarwal’s movie platform has a Rs 100 crore plus turnover. During the lockdown, Ullu saw 250 percent growth in subscriptions. This writer could not, however, verify the claim.

Others say the low-subscription OTT platforms work better on volumes. Thanks to such huge productions in Meerut and some other Indian cities, these platforms have been able to build up a huge inventory. Consider the case of Kooku, which has a Rs 45 per month subscription and some steamy shows like Blind Kotha, Bhaiya Ki Biwi and Saheli. And then there is DesiFlix, which has a plethora of such shows, including Shilajit, Love Exchange, Car Wash, Naked Bar, Trust Issues, Black Magic, Blow Job and Uncut Version.

There are explicit scenes and often, total nuditySubscriptions grow fast. “That is a lot of cash for them. No wonder today Meerut is to porn what Kota is to private tutorials. But then, no one is complaining because it falls under the category of movies and there is a storyline for each of those films on these OTT platforms,” laughs Mumbai-based filmmaker Sandeep Mukherjee.

Mukherjee says Meerut is just the venue for the menu. The current crop of filmmakers are bold, as are the actors. In some cases, even well-known actors are making bold statements, provoking people to watch such movies. He cited the example of Bengal’s Sreelekha Mitra, who took to Facebook to promote her movie, Bitter Half, and wrote: “Get lost in my eyes first... Cleavage can take its own sweet time.”

People involved in such shoots in Meerut say there has been a huge increase in new sign-ups for such movies but the growth isn’t translating into huge cash for the actors. Their earnings are actually static, while schedules are physically exhausting because shoots happen throughout the week and extend up to 60 hours a week. Total secrecy is maintained during the shoots.

The government is equally worried about such erotic content. Last month, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry brought video streaming OTT platforms under the ambit of the ministry. Earlier, these platforms were under the purview of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. A request for comment to the Information and Broadcasting ministry went unanswered.

Sex on small OTT platforms in a billion-plus India is going through the roof. The shooting is on a high, and the OTT platforms have built up stable connections with their regular viewers. Every day, a large number of new audiences is joining the bandwagon. This is not surprising, claim insiders. In 2018, India was the third-largest consumer of porn before the government pushed in stringent regulations, forcing people to seek alternative mediums like these lesser-known OTT platforms.

“A large number of people are getting into this market because there is a smell of assured success. That is the business side. On the other side, Indians have always loved to watch sex on screen and today, they have a wide range of choices. There’s a telecom revolution in India and everyone can get these movies on their mobile phones,” says Sujata Sabnis, a Pune-based fiction writer.

MX channel’s own erotica, a fictional biography of Mastram, the famous pulp fiction writer from the 1980s, is rumoured to have scored over 20 million views. Sabnis says not many in India are considering the socio-political context of such sex series. “Only the fan base for such movies is increasing. But those picking up subscriptions for such shows need to educate themselves about what they are getting into. But will that happen in India?”

The bulk of those picking up subscriptions for such hot movies are daily wage workers and those in menial jobs, claim insiders. “This is cheap entertainment for them. Everyone wants to see skin. And they are free to do it,” says advertising veteran and actor Sunil Gupta.

Gupta, who essayed the role of a top cop in Patal Lok, says those who direct such movies know what their clientele needs. They do not mind getting into a number of hot scenes. “Eventually, it is a movie for them, it is erotica of real India. It was always there, except such movies are coming up in hordes. Somewhere, storytelling has taken a new turn.”

But there are times when wannabe actors get into trouble. In July, police in Indore busted a porn racket where girls were lured into shooting promotional films in the hope that they would be included in serials produced by Ekta Kapoor’s Balaji Telefilms’ subscription-based video on demand platform Alt Balaji (which makes web series).

Eventually, their videos were found circulating on a Gwalior-based OTT platform operated by a young software engineer. The police did not reveal the name of the OTT platform but said it had a huge subscriber base in as many as 22 countries, including the United States, Poland, Australia and Switzerland.

At the same time, there are stars who pick up decent cash from such movies. Consider the case of Anveshi Jain, an electrical engineer turned actress whose net worth is reportedly Rs 4-5 crore. She is one of India’s most Googled people and became a digital sensation post her debut on the ALT Balaji web series Gandi Baat2. She has 2.5 million followers on Instagram and her Facebook page has 3.2 million followers.

What is interesting is that many film critics write about high-class Indian content on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+Hotstar, but there is a deathly silence in India about the growing popularity and consumption of Indian homegrown erotica and apps dedicated to the genre. Critics say these hot movies are sold to the audiences as urban tales from the hinterland. There is enough skin showing, oomph and sex to keep the viewer fantasising.

Thanks to Jain and others, many mainstream actors are joining the erotica bandwagon. Swara Bhasker stars in Rasbhari, Anupriya Goenka is the lead actor in Panchali, Minissha Lamba is the lead in Kasak and Anshuman Jha plays the titular character in Mastram. The rest of the cast doesn’t matter, it comprises either new or known faces from television. There are new rules and new formulae, categories marked as top budget, mid-budget and low-budget.

It is 9 am on December 31, 2020, and shooting is on in full swing in Meerut. There is no let-up. A director tells me over the telephone that all the producers have planned midnight New Year parties, some of which will be laced into movies as well.
Shantanu Guha Ray is a senior journalist based in New Delhi.
first published: Dec 31, 2020 06:05 pm

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