The dirty picture

Aditi Sengupta | Updated on August 01, 2020 Published on July 31, 2020


Adult film posters add colour to daily commutes. A beneficiary recounts her story

“How is it possible? Won’t they feel breathless?” I whispered into Mohini’s (not her real name) ears.

“Stupid, one is supposed to be out of breath that time,” Mohini giggled as she imparted this pearl of wisdom.

“But still...” I remained in doubt as I tried to crane my neck for another look at the object of discussion. It was a film poster on a lamp post near the base of a bridge. It was clear as day that the bloodthirsty vampire in the poster was eager to sink his teeth (perhaps more) into the flesh of a doe-eyed damsel in Bedouin-like clothes. But the title of the film — Do Gaz Zameen ke Neeche — confused me. What’s the fun in being two yards below the surface, in the company of potatoes and earthworms?

I kept thinking about the logistics till the vampire and his object of desire disappeared one morning. The lamp post was still there though, as was the bridge (until two years ago). And my rusty school bus — which ferried me to a convent and back for more than a decade — drove past them every morning. Mohini and I sat glued to the window for the blink-and-you-miss visual tour of film posters that tickled our imagination and hormones.

These were films that were never the topic of dinnertime family discussion. These were not films that nuns wanted me, Mohini or any girl in the world to watch. These were films that found no mention in the column for show timings in newspapers. And yet they were at the centre of my universe — and also Mohini’s, who had more knowledge of the human actions that these films focused on.

The lamp post at the base of the bridge — like many other lamp posts in Kolkata — was the most dedicated member of the support cast. It lent its slender body to the nimble worker who slapped posters on it every Thursday night. From frisky vampires to lustful witches (chudail or daayan), the whole gamut of paranormal creatures held the lamp post tight over the years. Asian air hostesses in outlandish blonde wigs and buxom Indian housewives, in nighties and saris as translucent as dim sum dough, filled in when the preternatural sought leave. The occasional devar (brother-in-law), looking suitably naughty and shapely, created a flutter as much as the postman (there were no couriers or pizzas in my schooldays).

The titles of these films were as spicy as the theme — Pyaasi Raat, Pyaasa Mera Dil, Bhookhi Aatma, Rangeen Raatein, Airhostess ka Dil, Chudail ki Chahat, Jawani ke Sholay, Meri Hot Bhabhi and so on. Heat and thirst seemed to be the leitmotif of the films, given the preference for words such as pyaas (thirst), pyaasa (thirsty), garmi (heat), aag (fire) and sholay (flames).

I felt the heat too, one sultry summer night, when my knackered mother caught me watching an adult Hollywood film on cable TV. It didn’t matter to her that I was above 18 years of age at the time — fully aware and proud of my legal right to walk into a theatre screening a “blue film”. Such a theatre was less than 100m from the metro station I used daily during my three years of undergraduate studies. Named after a certain goddess, it was truly a pilgrimage of sorts for bored students, desperate couples and frustrated men. The only thing that kept me from paying obeisance at this altar of desire was the thought of taking a thousand bugs to bed. An easier option was to spend time at a bus stand on the other side of the road — just to keep a ‘respectable’ distance — and watch the crooked illustrations of bhabhis, devars and perky padosans (female neighbours) take turns in keeping their patrons in good spirits. The spirit, too, was easily available, in quarts and pints.

Further away, perched on the side of a flyover that still exists, was another theatre that nurtured the ‘poster girl’ in me. This, too, was on my route to college — call this a quirk of fate or my parents’ belief in holistic education. The queue outside the ticket counter was as constant as the stench that arose from the nullah below the bridge. Unfortunately, there was no bus stand there that I could use as prop. What I found instead was a temple — the kind where people gather to sing, pray and offer sweets and flowers to deities who are oblivious to the fuss around them. To my advantage, the staircase of the temple offered a clear view of the hoarding outside the theatre. The added bonus of munching on the nakuldana — cloyingly sweet sugar balls — distributed by the priest, took care of hunger pangs as I watched the poster of Her Nights making way for Gair Mard (the other man).

Aren’t forbidden fruits — and films — the sweetest, after all?

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Published on July 31, 2020
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