I didn’t expect so many people to know me and reach out to me like this. It’s been overwhelming” — porn star-turned-Bollywood actress Sunny Leone on her maiden visit to Calcutta on August 7.
“Ma’am, fan since 10 years” — Gopal Shah, an insurance executive, to Sunny Leone at Cinemax Mani Square the same day.
Calcutta’s testosterone went into overdrive the day the Indian-born adult entertainer from the US landed in the city to promote her Bolly debut, Jism 2. However, for most of the men who had queued up to see her in the flesh, this wasn’t their first tryst with Sunny. Neither was Bigg Boss, the reality show that introduced her to the average Indian household.
Sunny the adult star has been a staple on Internet browsers and DVD players of the Calcutta male ever since she stepped into her high heels a decade ago.
However, them salivating over Sunny at every stop she made wasn’t the surprise. Them proudly proclaiming that they watch and enjoy, debate and discuss porn openly is what afforded a peek into the all-new bare-all psyche of the Calcutta male.
Like college student Ajay Raj Singh who stood for hours in the blazing August sun to catch a peek of Sunny. “You will not find a single man in this world who hasn’t watched Sunny Leone’s videos. We all are big Sunny Leone fans and I wasn’t going to let go of this chance to come and see her in person. She’s very popular among all of us.”
But it isn’t just Sunny Leone coming into the mainstream that has made porn a talking point. The Calcutta male now thinks that watching porn is cool, talking about it even cooler. No longer is porn spoken about in hushed tones or watched stealthily post midnight.
“I find it easier today to stand out there and say that I watch porn because our generation is a lot more open in the way we think and what we do. My friends and I openly discuss and debate porn because we see it as an art,” says Tirthankar Biswas, 21, a Jadavpur University student.
Watching porn for the young, urban Calcutta male isn’t a big deal, seconds 27-year-old B. Pushkar, who made the city his home a year ago. “It is a brand of cinema which makes you ‘happy’! It is something you start watching out of curiosity and it slowly becomes a habit. There is no singular thought or intention behind it. In fact, I think Calcutta is the only metro in India which still has local cable channels showing porn at night. It took me back to my school days. That’s how it was for me, from cable TV to downloading torrents to online streaming.”
From boasting about its cool factor to not giving a damn, the attitude varies. What remains constant is the underlying notion that watching porn is normal, it’s natural.
“People who say they don’t watch porn are liars and those who watch it only to criticise it publicly are hypocrites. Porn is a part of growing up for any guy,” justifies 21-year-old college student Shayak Roy.
And it just isn’t the single college goer who likes watching his porn and talking about it too. “We boast the world’s second-largest population and watching porn is a very natural part of the process. It’s actually a very normal thing to do. My wife knows that I watch porn. And honestly, she doesn’t really make a hue and cry about it because she knows that she’s married a real man who likes watching his porn once in a while!” says Partha Pratim Chakraborty, a 33-year-old marketing professional.
This coming out is perceived by experts as a two-pronged phenomenon. “Firstly, Calcutta is largely perceived to be less progressive than other metros. It is considered constrained and traditional. But of late, there has been a shift and an increasing openness in discussing issues of sex and sexuality. The stigma attached to it has lessened. But this is mostly in the middle-class and upper middle-class youth groups. So it is a positive pointer, which shows that society has become less restrictive and repressive. It shows that from a topic of taboo, it is now a topic which warrants legitimate discussion,” says Ruchira Goswami, who teaches sociology and human rights at the National University of Juridical Sciences.
What’s more interesting than the city male being frank about consuming pornography are the reasons that make him fearlessly overcome the social stigma that has been till date attached to it.
“Firstly, we are in general more liberal and accepting and secondly, we don’t have the burden of the ‘macho’ tag — where manly men do manly stuff and porn is a hushed topic behind closed doors — to live up to. I personally don’t know what’s the big deal about watching porn and admitting to it!” says college student Aritro Mazumdar.
For Shounak Bhowmick, 23, it is a simple matter of not being ashamed of natural instincts. “There’s no point in hiding something which everyone does and is completely natural. Curiosity and sexuality are absolutely natural to humans and a mix of the two leads to watching porn. And today, amongst friends of either gender, discussing sex or watching porn is as common as talking about the weather,” he feels.
“I grew up in a boys school and the biology textbook was a no-knowledge-on-anything-related-to -sex education. So we, as a collective, went online to get to know how to ‘do it’. I am not ashamed of it and neither my friends nor I make bones about watching it. I know a lot of girls who watch porn too,” says Soumendra Bhattacharya, student and founding member of Mad About Drama, a theatre company.
Adds Dalia Chakrabarti, head of the department of sociology, Jadavpur University: “The inhibition about discussing sexuality and the body is on the decline. Previously the level of access that youngsters had was limited and the negative reaction to watching porn from family and society further drove them to watching it even more. Discussing it and treating it as not taboo makes it normal, hence less attractive. In fact, we often include issues regarding these topics in our syllabus to ensure students can discuss problems that might arise.”
However, taken to the extreme, this easy access and habit-forming viewing of pornography might have an adverse effect on youngsters, says Chakrabarti. A fact that is seconded by Goswami. “Pornography is still a medium where women are objectified from a male gaze. You will still not find women coming out and saying they watch or read pornographic material, as easily as the male will. This makes it now part of the machismo tag. Since we still live within a gendered context, it is like being trained in becoming ‘masculine’ like drinking and smoking. Also, there are studies done in the direct linkage between consumption of pornography and objectification of women leading to sexual violence.”
Even sexually, pornography can have negative repercussions. “Four out of 10 patients that come to me are addicted to watching porn on their mobile phones because that’s the first step that most take in case of erectile dysfunction. However, we generally discourage people from viewing pornography because it is a distorted and loveless form of sex. Those who watch it frequently generally lose touch with reality which leads to disruptions in their everyday life,” cautions city sexologist Govind Gupta.
However, that doesn’t really bother the Calcutta male who is cool about consuming porn. “We watch naked people in world cinema and appreciate it, so what’s wrong about watching porn?” laughs college goer Saptarshi Dutta.