The film's tagline on BEST buses — before it was removed at the order of a radical right outfit which found it offensive — was tantalisingly vague: 'If you still don't know about Mastram, ask your father and uncles'. Teenagers, who come evolved these days, chose to ask the Internet. The web threw up little on the identity of a "legend in porn writing".
Who is the man/woman author, whose nom de plume Mastram was a household name a few decades back? When Amitabh Bachchan was scorching the screen in the '70s, Mastram's women were blazing a trail through dormitories, bedrooms and toilets in the Hindi heartland. The characters drawn from everyday life — the maid, sister-in-law, teacher, nurse, voluptuous and ribald — whipped up feverish imagination in the young and old alike.
In spite of a dream run for more than a decade, which spawned many books and a brand, which was exploited by several writers, the trend-setter refused to come out in the open. The reasons, one assumes, have to do with India's hypocritical relationship with porn: What's sought after in the secrecy of the bedroom becomes an object of derision, scorn and denouncement in public life — an infantile disorder that afflicts the self-styled custodians of morality and culture, the most.
Mastram knew it, as did the publishers whose obsession with secrecy bordered on the hilarious. The publisher's address on the slim, pocket-sized books sometimes read Chandi Chowk, Bangalore, or Jhilmill Galli, Uttar Pradesh.
Akhilesh Jaiswal, the director of the Mastram, who too had succumbed to Mastram's magic in school, had no choice but to create a fictional account of the now-forgotten sensation. He had knocked on the doors of a liberal uncle and some writers of Hindi pulp fiction, only to reach a dead end. All of them, however, had one common thing to say: The language of early Mastram bore some traces of literary flavour, which was later dispensed away with when new writers jumped on the bandwagon. As the language became coarser, perhaps the readership too changed. The barely literate became the new recipients for an extreme testosterone rush. An irreversible decline had begun.
With the '90s came the Internet and its endless trove of adult content, defying all forms of censorship and laws. It was time for Mastram and fellow authors to go and along with them disappeared a way of life — when it took as little as Rs5 to become an adult.
Vernacular porn — that also thrived in West Bengal, Kerala and Maharashtra — had failed to evolve with the times. An execrable language and lack of novelty in themes led to a fatigue, driving away most of its closet champions. The final blow came with a new pocket-size wonder — the ubiquitous mobile phone — that made downloading and watching porn an egalitarian exercise.
At this point, the banned graphic depictions of Savita Bhabhi's exploits rekindled interest in desi offerings. Savita is the sculpted figure of a counterculture that refuses to be sanitised, cocking a snook at the authorities every time they forbid a website from featuring her stories.
Mastram, rather the offerings, will never die. They might embrace a new format, but there will be men and women who will keep the spirit alive.