Half a decade has gone by since Madame Neha Dhupia made a famous quote - 'In Bollywood, only Shahrukh Khan and sex sells'. Well, as a writer you may hate to begin every article - that talks about sex and Bollywood - with this quote. After all you look for originality in your own writing and want something newer in the way you wish to begin a piece. However, the fact remains that while it is secondary to ascertain whether sex sells anymore in Bollywood or not, the truth is that Neha's quote sells for sure. So here is it to you Neha - 'Your quote rocks and will live in for many more decades to come. So more power to you'.
And now let's come to the subject under discussion:
Whether sex sells any more in the Hindi film industry?
Whether the world has moved on where an actress is no more going nude just for the big screen but is also happy to go topless on a social networking site?
Whether doing so means getting all the mileage for virtually free when a planned campaign would have required ton loads of investment?
And whether through these means, other than getting a voyeuristic pleasure, does audience really get enticed to watch a film of that actress?
West being copied
This was a phenomenon that has been lifted straight from Hollywood though Bollywood actresses haven't quite gone the whole distance (and aren't expected to do so in next couple of years at least). Out there in West, mobile clippings, leaked bedroom videos, sex romps, nude walk on the beach or intimate moments in a hotel room have all been captured and splashed for the consumption of media and audience alike. Online auctions of such material is the order of the day as well while tabloid culture, which has basically been predominant in West, has been more than happy to publicise it for days at stretch.
However, the million dollar question is - 'How many actresses out of these belong to the A grade who actually are doing something worthwhile in Hollywood?' Are they actually being seen in films that do 500/600/700 million dollars business? The answer is a definite no. The names that actually make the rounds are those who may be aspiring actresses, popular models, sex symbols, socialites or those upstarts who are basically looking at gaining those eyeballs through such tactics.
Does that succeed? Certainly yes. They may not get the A grade Hollywood offers but their becoming a public figure and an object of attention by millions of voyeurs does lead to many a endorsement, public appearances, event highlights and other assignments related to the world of glamour.
So why this entire comparison with Hollywood? Because the same holds good for Bollywood too where one would never find a top actress going for such extreme measures. Can one imagine a Priyanka Chopra or a Katrina Kaif or a Deepika Padukone to be reaching out for that cell phone, clicking a picture of hers and posting it on a social networking site? Can one expect the intimate details of any of these leading ladies to be leaked (whether intentionally or unintentionally) to the media so that it could lead to wider consumption amongst their base? Definitely not.
Not that any of these girls have any aversion to skin show. After all if done in a classy way, they are game for it and have a definite sex appeal to them which works for the audience. But never can one find them to be indulging in an activity that would result in voyeuristic pleasure.
What has led to the change?
There was a time when sex did sell. The classic case is that of Neha Dhupia's own Julie which destroyed Priyanka Chopra's Asambhav at the box office when released on the same day. After all Neha's backless pose was too hot in comparison to the cold romantic rendezvous that Priyanka had with Arjun in the action entertainer. A spate of films with sex as an underlining theme followed. Hawas, Girlfriend and many more followed and while none of them turned out to be a super-duper success since country wide audience still ignored them, the target audience ensured money back guarantee for its makers. Madame Sherawat Sherawat shocked audience with a Murder but that was an exception since in addition to sex, there was also a family drama involved that managed to fetch female audience.
However, things changed in the second half of the current decade with multiplexes taking over the business of cinema. Of course a Hawas can't see a price tag of Rs. 300 for a single multiplex ticket and the target consumer too can't be expected to shell out such cinema. This means that the audience is restricted to smaller towns. While earlier a film belonging to such genre was still enticing enough for such a consumer, free availability of porn, internet download being a possibility in every small town and city coupled with easy exposure to Hollywood material (which was far more revealing meant) that 'desi' sleaze for the big screen was not quite a viable option any more.
Career dimension changed
It was time to announce death kneel for an alternate industry that seemed to be building in with at least B grade production values, something that seemed to be a much better preposition than the Z grade cinema that continues to be offered with the likes of Hawas Ke Pujari, Naukgrani, Kaamvaasna and so on. Though minimal investment affairs like these have seen a downfall too, the possibility of seeing lesser Bollywood actresses featuring in such cinema has totally diminished.
No wonder, the career dimension of quite a few actresses has changed in last 5 years. A few decided to sit at home and wait for audience to forget their past work so that they could start afresh. Others decided to call quits when it came to sleazy portrayals and went for a total image makeover. Some of them even called their Bollywood journey as a mistake while others plain and simple described it as a case of being misleading. In fact someone like Katrina Kaif who started off with a shocker of a vulgar flick - Boom - went underground only to re-emerge as a plain Jane in flicks like Sarkar Raj and Maine Pyaar Kyun Kiya. Try asking her a question on Boom and you are bound to be greeted with a stare that would be cold enough to cut an iron rod.
Eyeballs yes, promotion no
Meanwhile, some actresses are still trying their luck to keep the media attention intact for them with a mere mention of skin show. Mallika Sherawat announced loud and clear that she had gone topless on Twitter. However, there was hardly anything exposing about the picture and turned out to be nothing but a damp squib. Sherlyn Chopra too made hue and cry about being banned due to her act of posting a nude picture of hers on Twitter. Yes, these news flashes did attract eye balls. Also, they were spoken about for a few days but that's about it.
These acts can't necessarily mean that if a film of their releases tomorrow, it would find queues lining up at the box office. That's because if promotion like this, especially in today's times, would have made audience interested in a film, Kareena's backless pictures that were splashed all for Kurbaan would have given the film a rousing start. Or Barbara Mori's so-called sizzling scenes would have resulted in continued sustained audience for Kites. Even more, Claudia Ciesla with her super enhanced figure and her super bold photo shoots would have made her a direct entry into the next five Bollywood biggies.
And if you are wondering who is Claudia Ciesla and perhaps confusing her with Claudia Schiffer, the point is further made!
So who benefits?
As stated earlier, except for the very core of the glamour industry - Bollywood - everything and everyone else benefits. More eyeballs mean that a face becomes much more recognisable in the world of glamour. An actress may not quite bag the biggest of the endorsements but there is enough visibility and marketing options that open up to ensure that something happens every now and then to keep one engaged. There can be milk shakes assigned against your name, corporate big wigs may be happy to rope you in as a 'guest of glamour' (though not quite the 'guest of honour'), there could be a mall inauguration happening out there in Dubai or a wedding planner may have you as a top guest in the ceremony - there is work for everyone and anyone as long as there is requirement for an eye candy.
Audience, who comes with a very short memory, also benefits because what was possibly being seen through the eye of a voyeur is readily available on newspaper supplements and even news channels. There is no embarrassment of getting caught while stealing a glimpse because what is available on a breakfast table can't be ignored, right?
Media is of course happy because there is something eye catchy enough to fill the spots and the slots that would attract advertisers. And the very fact that you are reading this piece makes me happy as a writer because it means that the topic by itself was enticing enough for you to check it out till the very end.