Bollywood re-creates life of Indian erotica writer Mastram

A new Bollywood film traces the fictional journey of a real-life writer of erotica whose racy low-cost works in Hindi spurred sales at bookstalls and pavement shops across India in the 1980's and 90's.

The identity of the author, who used the pseudonym Mastram, was never revealed, but the film's director Akhilesh Jaiswal said he remembers sneaking the books in as a teenager, one of millions of adolescents in conservative India with little access to erotica before the Internet made pornography widely available.

Mastram's works included "Yauvan ki Pehli Baarish" (First Rains of Youth), "Sexy Nurse" and "Manchali Bhabhi" (Salacious Sister-in-law).

"Every time I read the books, I used to wonder who this man was and what on earth he must be telling his kids about what he did to earn a living. Did his family know?" Jaiswal, 28, told India Insight in an interview.

Jaiswal, best known in the Hindi film industry for co-writing the 2012 revenge thriller "Gangs of Wasseypur", chose Mastram as the subject for his debut film as director.

"I tried looking for the original Mastram everywhere, but the problem is that most of the publishers who printed his books have shut down," he said.

Booksellers never openly displayed Mastram's works, bringing them out only if a customer asked for them. Jaiswal said he found several authors writing under the pseudonym in later years, but the language was sleazier than that of the original Mastram.

Today, books stalls at railway stations and markets in North India stock the newer versions, usually hiding them under a pile of magazines. Their lurid covers feature half-naked women with lurid titles and nearly all have explicit sex scenes.

"The ones who are publishing now don't even print their names or logos on the books, so there is no way of knowing where they came from," said Jaiswal.

He began constructing his own version of the writer's life.

In "Mastram", which opens in cinemas in May, the protagonist dreams of writing novels but unemployment forces him to start writing erotica. When his identity is eventually revealed, Mastram - played by actor Rahul Bagga - is denounced as an immoral man.

"In public, everyone wanted to be a decent person, no matter how false that facade was," said Jaiswal.

The director said he hoped to expose hypocritical attitudes to sex and erotica in many of India's smaller towns and cities, chronicling an era when talking about sex or reading about it wasn't taboo as long as it was done behind closed doors.

Bollywood is increasingly tackling risqué topics on the big screen, with mainstream actress Vidya Balan winning a national award for "The Dirty Picture [6]", loosely based on the life of 1980′s soft-porn star Silk Smitha.

The theatrical trailer of "Mastram" features a raunchy item number sung by rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh, known for his provocative songs and music videos featuring women dancing in suggestive poses.

"What is in the trailer is not really in my hands, but my film is not one that is trying to cash in on the sexual aspect of the story. Perhaps it might bring the audiences in, but essentially it is about a writer who finds himself unable to take credit for his work, and instead has to feel ashamed about it," said Jaiswal.