By Saurabh Sharma for Youth Ki Awaaz:
For Maila Ram, 22, a Lucknow-based driver who hails from Bihar, watching Bhojpuri movies on his smartphone is an addiction.
He watches them even while he’s at work sitting in the excavator truck. During the break, he’s surrounded by his comrades-at-work, all of them caught in the lusty thrill of an actress showing skin, mouthing raunchy dialogue. Bhojpuri movies are soft porn Maila Ram and his friends can watch anywhere without anyone stopping them.
One of the movie title goes – “Bhauji Debu Ki Na Debu” (Sister in-law, will you give or not?). Maila has a collection of over 10 such movies in his smartphone. At times, he deletes one to accommodate a fresh release. The guy at the mobile shop allows downloads of movies at ₹10 per movie in high definition.
Bhojpuri cinema attracts a lot of working class like truck drivers, cleaners, rickshaw pullers and labourers according to Anand Sharma, professor in the Mass Communications Department at Lucknow University, and alumnus of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. However, there is little doubt that the youth, mostly men, are the main audience. They are Internet savvy and have seen enough skin to last them a lifetime. But all that’s ‘foreign’, so when they see anything that’s indigenous, it’s serious stuff!
The double entendre, the raunchy dialogue with the expression and body language to go with it attracts a lot of young men, says Indal Singh, a standard XII student of Khargapur, Lucknow.
Indal says keeping porn in mobile phones is risky and Bhojpuri movies have everything in them to brand them porn. He also says boys of his age watch Bhojpuri films to get a hold of the “cheap lines” they could later throw at girls.
Lines such as ‘Tohar Lehnga Uthayi Deb Remote Se,’ (Will lift your skirt with a remote control) ‘O Bhauji Debu Ke Nahi’ (O sister in-law, will you give it or not) and ‘Double Musammi Rasgulla’ (Double sized sweet limes) are some of the lines young boys like Indal pick up.
Commercialization is the catalyst that turned Bhojpuri films into ‘skin-flicks’, Sharma adds.
To attract audiences and mint box office collection, actresses in Bhojpuri films are always made to shed clothes to romance heroes.
Movie titles like “Pepsi Peeke Lagelu Sexy”, “Laila Maal Ba- Chalia Dhamaal Ba”, “Lehanga Mein Baadh Aail Ba”, “Jeans Wali Bhauji” and “Mehraru Chahi Milky White” present an overly sexualized portrayal of women, says Prabhu Jhingran, former director of Lucknow Doordarshan.
“Our laws restrict indecent portrayal of women but in the case of Bhojpuri films, no arrests or any sort of legal action have been taken,” says Jingran.
According to an RTI reply, it was revealed that of the total 256 films that were denied certification by the Central Board of Film Certification Between 2001 and 2011, 78 were Hindi films and 52 were English. Meanwhile, on the banned list were two Bhojpuri movies – “Garda Garda Ho Jaaye” and “Mumbai Bam Visfot Kand”.
If the first President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad, was alive today, he would have admitted, proud Bihari that he was, that it was he who planted the seed of making Bhojpuri films in the head of a fellow Bihari.
The year was 1950. The idea was conceived The President asked the actor why he didn’t make a film in their own language. Hussain expressed his doubts on who would want to invest in regional cinema, but reportedly, Prasad persisted till he finally agreed.
It took a good 12 years after his meeting with Dr Prasad, for the renowned actor to finally start making a film in Bhojpuri.
On February 21, 1963, “Ganga Maiyya Tohe Piyari Chadhaibo” (Mother Ganges, I will offer you a yellow sari) was screened at the Sadaqat Ashram in Patna. The movie’s main plotline was a murder mystery where the groom was killed on his wedding night. The love story and the chemistry between the actors in the movie take place without any objectification of women.
The movie was dedicated to Dr Rajendra Prasad. Directed by Kundan Kumar, the film’s songs were written by Shailendra, known for hits like “Awaara Hoon”. Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi lent their voices.
Such was the hype generated that there was a massive rush at theatres screening the film. Even non-Bhojpuri speakers eagerly went for the movie.
Bhojpuri cinema had finally arrived!
But, as the years rolled by, regardless of the mind-boggling success of Ganga Maiyya, only 21 more Bhojpuri films were made between 1963 and 1976. Prabhu Jhingran says all these releases were family-centric and great care was given to the storyline and music.
“Laagi Nahi Chhoote Ram”, “Videshiya”, “Ganga”, “Bhauji”, “Hamar Sansaar” and “Balam Pardesiya” were among the most memorable movies released in this period.
In 1977, the first Bhojpuri movie in colour “Dangal” hit the screens and became a big hit. The year marked a shift in the Bhojpuri movie industry, says Avijit Ghosh, the writer of Cinema Bhojpuri.
Bhojpuri films fell to the lure of double-entendre, action, loud music and senseless scripts. Piety and family values that marked the first movies were dumped at the altar of commercialisation.
In the years after 1977, filmmakers shifted focus from the family audience to the working class, presenting truck drivers, labourers, rickshaw pullers, coolies with cheap thrills.
Then, along came “Sasura Bada Paisawala” in 2004, starring singer-turned-actor and now politician Manoj Tiwari. Made on a budget of ₹30 lakh, Sasura made more than ₹9 crore at the box office. The cheesy song lyrics and a couple of dance numbers in the movies made it a big hit.
That success opened the floodgates. In the next eight years, more than 500 movies were made in Bhojpuri though only a few of them were fit for family viewing.
The contrast between the movies of the second and third phases of Bhojpuri cinema could be seen in the composition of their audiences. “Ganga Kinaare Mera Gaon” (1984). It was a love story with a beautiful portrayal of women. The film had mixed emotions and was a pure family movie that was highly appreciated by women. Today, women distance themselves and shield their children from Bhojpuri movies, says Jhingran.
Commenting on the direction the Bhojpuri film industry has taken, budding Bhojpuri film actress Gulshan says what is being shown is not the culture of the region where the language is spoken. “Such movies are churned out because filmmakers find a great demand for them. But while producers mint money, the educated class stays away,” says Gulshan.
The older generation laments on what has become the phenomenon they once held in high esteem. “The golden era died long ago. The Internet is also playing an important role in promoting this vulgarity and youths have fallen for it,” says Anand Ojha, a senior citizen.
While cheaper data packs have made it easier for Maila Ram to access these videos, he now says that local shops have begun uploading movies onto to one’s mobile for a mere ₹10 and it helps him watch it offline.
Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow based independent journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.