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OP-ED: Smut, eroticism, and the web series

  • Published at 08:41 pm June 28th, 2020
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Sometimes, films should show the facts, no matter how unpalatable they may be

There has been a vigorous debate of late about the explicit nature of some of the locally-made web series available on YouTube with the issue leading several acclaimed actors to make statements about censorship plus the need to uphold moral values. 

With no disrespect to the illustrious and veteran actors/social figures, the entire notion about safeguarding moral values appears a little vague and to be downright honest -- ridiculous. 

I saw a few web series on the net, which included one called Sadarghater Tiger. Yes, it was raunchy and I admit to rewinding the saucy scenes because they were exciting. Does that make me a pervert devoid of any values? There is something called adult entertainment. 

The issue about sexuality in films, whether it’s portrayed in a movie or a web production, has to be looked at without the blinkers. Sex per se has always been a taboo topic in Bangladesh and though it was always present in society, the common trend was and still is to put up a veil of puritanism and pretend that we are ashamed of it. 

The ongoing ballyhoo about the web series and its rather daring take on sex needs to be analyzed without going into a morality overdrive. Let’s try to be a little rational, juxtapose the past with the present, and refrain from putting up a smokescreen about sexuality in the decades after independence.

Morality argument is vapid 

In expressing disapproval for the current day web series which are audacious in matters of sex, several have put forward the matter of the degradation of moral values and the scarring of the social screed. Again, these are opaque words, meaning very little. 

There has been a comparison with the family-style feel good “ethical entertainment of the past” but those who try to bring up the bygone decades forget that in the 70s and 80s, a period when societal presentation in celluloid was filled with virtue, the real scene featured a massive brothel in Dhaka and a sprawling one in Narayanganj. 

The rationale about moral values shown on celluloid appears frivolous since, in the 80s, Thataribazar and Begumbazar were infamous for showing porn in VCR shacks. Those who watched these also went back home and enjoyed the family dramas too. 

Of course, morality has to be shown in films; but there are movies that are not just for escapism. Some aim to highlight the darker, seedier sides of society. They may provide the truth about life with a little eroticism thrown in for commercial allure.

Perverting the real situation in the name of reinforcing a charade of utopian values should be denounced. This double standard fails to convince anymore. 

To clarify the matter, let me refer to the series, Sadarghater Tiger. It’s a brilliantly shot film in the nooks and alleys of Sadarghat. The film revolves around a nubile sex worker who wants to start a new chapter with a local labourer. In showing her life, sex was added. 

The plot also involves a feud between local gang leaders, with the commissioner killed while spending time with the protagonist sex worker. The question is, how justified was showing the intimate scenes?

Well, if this was made in the 80s then the scenes in the bedroom would not have been shot at all and a closed-door would have worked as a metaphor. But times have changed, just the way the adverts about contraceptives have become more titillating and explicit. 

Once TV advert for Raja, a famous contraceptive, showed mostly men with a brief glimpse of a coy housewife. Compare that to the bold adverts we have now, especially the “ashol purush” (real man) -- where role-play is overtly suggested. 

Depict the truth, not an illusion

Sometimes, films should show the facts, no matter how unpalatable they may be. Another current web series -- I am a sex worker! -- the Bengali name is far more profane. The point is, since the film is about a sex worker in a red-light district, there will be scenes that are graphic. 

Then again, after watching this piece of work, I came to the conclusion that, apart from presenting the trials, tribulations, and the inner torment of a sex worker, the series also wants to titillate with close shots of the cleavage and the midriff. 

There is also a lot of moaning which could have been discarded. But then, a web series is also a commercial venture. It has to entice viewers. I am not exaggerating in stating that the bits which are causing so much uproar are the pull factors of the series.  

Are they smutty? Well, if item songs with skimpily-clad actresses comparing their physical attributes to the attraction generated by spicy pieces of tandoori chicken can pass the censor board and can be played freely at weddings plus other functions, then there is no logic as to why web series cannot be a little racy. 

After an impartial analysis of several web productions, I must say that the emphasis on sex was more than required though there is hardly any doubt that intertwining such sultry scenes with the plot is more like a strategy to create a market buzz. 

Lastly, if these productions offend certain sections then such web-based works can be rated “adult” with age verification checks. As for the soldiers of morality: It’s time we let go of the fake façade. Society is never about virtue but also vice. As a French philosopher, Moliere said: “I prefer pleasant vice to annoying virtue.”

Towheed Feroze is a journalist and teaches at the University of Dhaka.

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