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Is Indian Middle Class Society Comfortable With Watching Sex On Screen?

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Cinema is the art of storytelling: from tears to laughter, from anger to empathy, from music to romance, from narratives to stories, from legacies to classics, from cinema to classics! Whoever said they don’t believe in the power of cinema, has probably never watched enough cinema, to begin with.

Courtesy to technology, the online media space has been revolutionised with the Over The Top (OTT) media services. The Indian biggies such as Hotstar, ALT Balaji, Zee5, Voot, Eros Now and the likes find themselves in league with the global giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Apart from gaining streaming rights from Bollywood and regional industries, most of them also produce their own originals. Web-series and online content has surpassed the quality of the film format and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats!

Cinema garners huge popularity from both rural and urban areas leading to even nonsensical content touching the 100-crore club, whereas quality content such as indie films, web-series, documentaries or even non-mainstream Bollywood flicks don’t get their due. With the recent rise in rampant censorship cuts to the masala films loaded with cheap humour, item songs, and a pinch (read: excess) of sexism, the expectations from Bollywood have subsequently declined over the years. Although mainstream “actors” like Vicky Kaushal and Ayushmann Khurana—who are very well-deserving of the National Award—still try to keep up with the quality over quantity notion.

But, what about all those countless actors who never got their due, owing to multiple reasons ( read: nepotism) surfacing in the Bollywood industry? Is it our fault or the industry’s fault that “actors” like Suraj Pancholi and Athiya Shetty keep getting the limelight whereas actors like Shweta Tripathi and Vikrant Massey are overshadowed?

If you expect quality content, political correctness, terrific acting, great script and a great background score from Bollywood, you’re probably looking in the wrong place. Today, over 65% of rural India consumes OTT (thank you, Jio) posing a major threat to cable television and multiplexes. According to the latest Eros Now-KPMG report, Indian viewers are accessing content from more than 2.5 platforms at a given time. With such omnipotence and domination of the audience and its dependence on OTT, it seems important that viewers be served quality content.

Sacred Games Season 2

I am of the opinion that Netflix Originals like “Lust Stories and Sacred Gameswere a MAJOR hit amongst the youth not only because of the content or story, rather, due to the dominance and relation to Bollywood. A newly-married woman orgasming in front of her in-laws surely seems Bollywood-esque, all courtesy to Karan Johar. This country runs on three things: religion, politics and Bollywood; and what better than eight episodes of the same?

The rise of Kiara Advani as a successful mainstream Bollywood actor can be credited to her so-called “revolutionising” scene because, of course, showing female sexuality is still quite revolutionary in Bollywood. The idea of female sexuality is often hushed up as shown in “Lipstick Under My Burkha and Swara Bhaskar’s masturbation scene in “Veere Di Wedding”. Even though it took Bollywood decades of confidence and millions of censorship cuts to portray female sexuality, online media has been centuries ahead of them. In Prime OriginalsFour More Shots Please, a divorced single mother is introduced to the world of self-exploration and takes things in her own hands, quite literally. 

A Still from ‘Four More Shots Please”

Talking of sexuality, different sexual orientations and same-sex relationships as totally normal themes still seems alien to Bollywood. Being queer is seen as nothing less than comical, solely used (read: exploited) to gather a few laughs by showing cross-dressing, mocking gay men and fetishising lesbians. Be it, “Student of the Year” or, “Humshakals“, Bollywood has a pathetically cheap sense of humour which revolves around humiliating and being disrespectful of a number of communities. People with different sexual orientations have a personality, a family, a career, a loved one, an entire narrative, trauma and stories that include subjects other than who they love.

Arjun Mathur’s character, Karan, in Amazon Prime Original “Made in Heaven” is one of the best gay characters EVER written in India. Breaking all stereotypes of gay men being over-dressed and flamboyant, Karan is as much a man with his own dreams, traumas, love, life, family, as any other person! His sexual orientation is just a part of him. The post-Section-377 decriminalised world is aptly presented in the same as he breaks down before his family and fights against the “protectors of our culture” to educate the masses and break down of the shackles of heteronormativity.

Even in “Sacred Games” season 2, a sex scene between Pankaj Tripathi and Nawazuddin Siddiqui deserves ALL the applause! Something like this in Bollywood would have been traumatic to the average Indian middle-class homophobic society, well, only if the Censor Board allowed it in the first place! The entire premise of homosexuality is also well-presented in VJ Bani’s bisexual character in “Four More Shots Please”.

The open criticism of government and religion is something which audience-pleasing industries avoid to the core. Be it mocking the Gandhi family for the Emergency, sterilisation and the Bofors Scam or criticising the Hindu militant extremism, “Sacred Games” has had its fair share of critical thinking (read: viewing). The mockery of religion is something new to the Indian audience, earlier confined to the hushed tones at dining table conversations with close friends and family. “Bhagavan ko maante ho?” in Nawaz’s voice still resonates with a majority of the Indian audience who have to suppress their opinions regarding religion in a country which is run along religious lines. In “Made in Heaven”, Karan delivers a speech on homosexuality derived from ancient scriptures, thus critiquing the saffron-brigade.

Other than dealing with important issues, such shows have escalated the main leads to the position of “actors”, thus gaining immense appreciation from both critics and mainstream movie buffs. Actors overshadowed by nepotism now have a platform to showcase what they are truly made of. Actors like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Pankaj Tripathi, Radhika Apte, Arjun Mathur, Jim Sarbh, Sobhita Dhulipala, Manvi Gagroo, Kirti Kulhari, Sayani Gupta, Shashank Arora, Rasika Duggal, Ali Fazal, Shweta Tripathi, Vikrant Massey (and the list goes on) have experienced the journey to prominence and recognition via mainstream media.

Due to the burden of multiple factors, it’s pretty hard for mainstream Bollywood to focus on social complexities, family realities, classicism, casteism (thanks, Ayushmann for “Article 15“), sexism, sex, homosexuality, and things which should be talked about more often! Online platforms emerge as a saviour here, practising everything which is considered controversial and parallel. It seems to be a euphemism of the youth actually rising and taking charge of the societal complexities, foregoing what has been traditionally imposed on us. The domination of quality online media simply educates the target audience and informs them about raw socio-economic and political themes.

What looks like a bleak future, may soon be made vibrant with the ushering in of quality production, scripts, actors and content!

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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