The arrest of businessman Raj Kundra for his alleged involvement in the production of pornographic content on an OTT platform has rekindled the debate about the fine line between pornography and eroticism, particularly amid a boom in the Indian adult film industry. As the debates rage, many of those involved have questioned the basis of the raid on their industry, often citing the Bengali-language cult film Gandu – available on Netflix – as an excuse for showing explicit sex. Adult film producer Nuefliks wrote on Twitter: “Be clear about rules before you bring charges. Don’t be (the) judge … Movies like Clockwork Orange are Oscar nominations, Gandu on Netflix has explicit scenes. We follow the US content guidelines issued from the USA. “
In this context, The Wire interviewed filmmaker Q by Brahman Naman (2016), Tasher Desh (2012), Garbage (2018) and Ludo (2015). His 2010 film Gandu is often described as the most explicit film an Indian filmmaker has ever made. It has been recognized by viewers at film festivals around the world.
Edited excerpts from the interview below
The Kundra episode sparked a public debate about cinema, sex, porn and voyeurism. What are your views on this?
I really believe that this is not a comment on the socio-sexual situation in India. I think this is a political diversion from a bigger issue, which is Pegasus. This is in line with the trend of the past two years – whenever something matters or when there are elections there is a distraction and an algorithm that comes rolling to divert the eyeballs the other way.
Given that the Pegasus issue is not directly under the jurisdiction of the state government and the porn film hit is being investigated by the Mumbai Police, do you think it really is?
I’m not saying this is something over-structured or planned, just a random occurrence – a subject that came up at the right time and had the right amount of drama that could be used to advantage – a bit like the case of Sushant Singh Rajput .
Is there a larger moral question to be explored here?
I do not think so. This is just a facility. This is not a landmark decision, not a The People vs Larry Flynt sort of situation where the judiciary will be very liberal about the situation. This is not a topic that is hyped. Nothing will happen to Raj Kundra.
What kind of social hypocrisy do you think it exposes?
After 1992, I don’t think it’s fair anymore to call it hypocrisy. This is us. We are a nation of quite racist, casteistic, and bigoted people, and any form of artistic creation that needs to take place will be from this room. The art world has been completely replaced by the mainstream. There are activists who fight on the streets and are killed or imprisoned, and no community leader will do this without political affiliation because it is too dangerous. However, as a kid of the internet, I find solace in the power of the web, the next big thing to happen and disrupt everything, and I want to be a part of it.
One of the main consequences of the episodes was people trying to defend their profession by calling it “art” rather than “pornography” in order to avoid legal consequences. In fact, some OTT platforms that produce similar content have called on Twitter to say that it is unfair to question their content when sexually explicit films like Gandu are shown on Netflix …
For real? I never knew about it! Second, everything has to be validated. So that films become art, this confirmation comes from film festivals. Everything that is considered art will increase in value over time. Anything that is not validated or not verified is content, no matter how aesthetic it may be. On the one hand, the Internet does not adhere to these rules, confirmation can come from viewers and likes – there is no jurisdiction here. I’ve been dealing with this argument since Web 2.0 made Gandu possible in 2011 – before content had to be localized. The Internet, which Gandu made possible in 2011, wants to ban it in 2021 – an interesting group for me as a filmmaker (laughs).
What would you say is the line between eroticism and pornography?
Well, historically erotic pornography is upper class. In a traditionalist society like ours, where tolerance is low, moral oppression has led us to look at anything and agree that it is against one thing or the other. Sex scares people, especially patriarchy. Pornography itself is highly patriarchal and an underground drug for patriarchy. We end up stuck in a conundrum where we keep talking about non-topics like Raj Kundra and not real topics like rape of a minor when both have pornographic aspects, but we as a people have lost maturity, the connection between those understand both.
Would you say that pornography is a social evil?
Technically, porn is something you jerk off to. And erotic is for the upper class who look down on jerking off and jerk off anyway. Working on the premise that porn is social cops because everyone jerks you off, I had made a song about it called Harihar that told everyone to jerk off. The social premise is that wanking or any kind of sexual inclination is considered a perversion and once you mark it as such, kids will download porn – it’s an open door to porn! Since we cannot have normal conversations about sex with our parents, we will grow like this forever, morbid … where will children find out about it? From puberty to the time we are sexually active, our bodies want it, our minds are obsessed with it, and society says its perversion – so porn!
Have you chosen the language of sexual frustration in your films to help you find your way in society?
Yes. You see, sexual identity is at the center of our oppression, then there is caste identity. Look at this – like in the caste hierarchy, the lowest is the woman, the lowest in the Dalit is a woman, the lowest of the highest is also a woman. So the gender crisis runs in our blood, in our DNA, and I found it to be a very effective way to channel my energy because as a man I can’t understand it and I want to. My entire career has been trying to understand sexual oppression from a boy’s perspective. You will see that all of my characters are little guys who understand nothing and are doomed and Gandus – and they accept their Gandu status, they are not patriarchal and they are not trying to impose their manhood on the world. These were things that were very important to me – as information that should be disseminated in my works of art.
What does it mean to be part of the Indian counterculture?
You see, even Gandu was a popular culture phenomenon, albeit in a niche sense. Since then a rap scene has emerged, an indie scene. Before, subcultures were despised because it is like a caste system in which certain actions are devalued compared to others. So I’ve always been interested in shocking popular culture, showing them naked bodies so that they would be irritated and forced to watch.
How did you as an artist deal with criticism?
I love it! In some ways, I’m a mainstream world pornographer or an artist, and I’m lucky enough to be validated by A-list festivals. I happen to use a certain Rasa Beebhatsaya from our Navarasa culture that is ignored and people don’t want to talk about it. But it has a certain shock value and I just accept that I look at things from a different point of view than most of the others. I am aware of how emotionally fragile we are as a nation, so I am not at all surprised by their reactions!
How do you see the future of sexual liberation in India? Would you have done Gandu today?
It wouldn’t have been possible to do Gandu today. (laughs) I take solace in the fact that I could predict that we would become the Republic of Gandu. I mean look at us! We have become the stupidest nation in the world!
What do you think the immediate and far-reaching consequences of the Kundra episode will be?
More blocks will happen, more sites will be shut down, more things will be banned.
How do you think pornography should be dealt with in India? Should there be a change in law or policy?
Naturally! The Cinematographers Act itself is a hundred years old and is viewed through the lens of a very modernist but outdated constitution. And I can imagine that all of this will be called into question in the digital age. I’m not one to predict the future, but I can see the writing on the wall – sure, all the laws and games we’ve played have to change. They change as we speak.
Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet and lecturer in media studies based in Calcutta.