By Omkar Khandekar
Edited by Radhika Dhuru
A resident of Belapur in NaviMumbai, forty five year old Clementine was an ultra-modern woman. She livedwith her fifty year old husband Francis D’Souza. Of youthful disposition,Clementine loved to lead a life of women half her age and often surroundedherself with such youngsters. She shared an active sex life with her husband thinkingof it as an important ingredient for maintaining herself. However, it allchanged the day Francis suffered a heart-attack. After a lengthy treatment of six monthspunctuated by Clementine’s frequent quashing of inner desires, the doctors declaredFrancis medically fit. That night Clementine took special efforts to look goodand slipping herself into a nightie, got snug with Francis in their maritalbed. But Francis snubbed her advances citing loss of stamina. Clementine couldn’t bear the rejection andconfided into her best friend Devyani, a twenty six year old carefree soul. “Consider your problem solved,” said Devyani.“My boyfriend has a friend called Sagar. Must be around 22-23. He’s a bit poor but full of youth and charm.And here’s the best part – he is still fresh!” The set-up was at the beach of Mumbai’sneighbouring district Raigad. As the calm waves started kissing their feet, Clementinetook Sagar’s hand into hers. “Chase me,” she told him playfully and burstinto a sprint. Sagar started running after her. Clementine wanted just that.She deliberately slowed down and allowed Sagar to catch her, fall with her onthe sand and touch her as much as he could. She had worn a thin dress so thatit could get wet, cling on to the skin and treat the eye. Now her bra and pantywere clearly visible. “You look like you want to eat me raw,”Clementine teased as she caught Sagar staring admiring her lissome body. “Madam, if something is worth eyeing, peoplewill eye,” Sagar smiled. “You haven’t seen the real thing yet,”Clementine winked. “Once you do, you’ll become mad.” “When I do get a chance, I will. Till then, Ishall eye whatever is available.” “Stop eyeing already! Come closer, I need somewarmth.” “We don’t have any bonfire around. How will youget any?” “What about the fire in your loins?” Clementinemade her voice sexy. “It is only for you and your youth that I have taken somuch care of myself. Come warm me with your hands.” Here’sintroducing the world of Hindi soft-vein erotica labeled ‘Crime and True-Stories’,a low GSM world filled with throbbing desires, lust-ridden criminals andvictims of both sexes, inevitable murders and a police-force that always savesthe day. Truth overthrows deception and justice necessarily prevails. Quiteparadoxically, in spite of the kinks, the stories always have a happy ending. Ispeak for the larger picture. Every regular at public transport hubs like bus depots and railwaystations is familiar with the ‘Wheeler’ and the eclectic collection of magazinesit offers. More often than not, right between a notable strategist’s latestpolitical exploits and a cinematic Barbie’s clarification of her relationshipstatus lays a scantily clad voluptuous body with kohl-lined come-hither look onher face and lips that ooze red. The title screams promiscuity and its gruesomerepercussions along with several other stories that are supposedly, if one isto be faithful to the magazine name, ‘sweet’ or ‘romantic’ or ‘wonderful’.Consumers of such magazines like ‘Manohar Kahaniyaan’, ‘Madhur Kathayein’,‘Anokhi Romantic Adaayeen’ amongst others are “not looking for literature,” accordingto the magazine proprietors, “but for something that will pass their journeytime as well as entertain.” And before you misconceive its intentions, allow meto familiarize you with the jargon: these magazines don’t sell sex and violencebut “glamour” and “reality”. When Ipicked up the monthly editions of major crime magazines, one of thesimilarities that they shared was their head-offices were all based in Delhi. Mostof them are based on the city’s fringe areas like Badarpur, Mukherjee Nagar,New Rohtak Road amongst others. Success of one magazine inspires imitations andplagiarism. You have a ‘Madhur Gathayeen’ for every ‘Madhur Kathayein’; ‘SatyaKathayeinPrahari’ for every ‘SatyaKathayein’ and the like. A number of such imitationsblatantly copy stories from the frontrunners while their models are sourcedfrom Google Images. Contactingthe magazine proprietors is a major problem as they act elusive. Persistence helpedand one mellow afternoon after a long ride in the Delhi metro I stood outside MohanEstate station, asking for directions to the office to two gentlemen dressed inthe standard corporate attire sharing a cigarette. I readout the address from my notepad. “I can’tbe sure,” the taller one says. “Which office do you want to go to?” “ManoharKahaniyaan,” I reply. “What?”It might have stemmed from disbelief but I choose to think of it as anaccidental incoherence in my speech. “ManoharKahaniyaan. A magazine,” I repeat. The mansniggers. “No idea.” Arickshaw is more helpful and after a bumpy ride along a kachcha road, I am staring at a 4 storied IT office without anysignboard on the exterior. A few men in their early twenties are playingcricket right in the middle of the street. The watchman inquires about mypurpose of visit and leads me into an otherwise deserted ground floor exceptfor the foundation beams. The office is a transparent enclosure that looks morelike a trailer park. ManoharKahaniyaan is to crime magazines what Mayapuri is to cinema gossip. Prominentin the Hindi-speaking belt in India, both have seen pinnacles in their growthchart before succumbing to increasing competition. Manohar Kahaniyaan startedout in 1944 in the district of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh as a content-specificcrime monthly without any attempts at sensation or glamour. Due to an internalconflict between the managing committee, the magazine abruptly stoppedpublication in 2000 and was defunct till 2003 until Delhi Press, a media house,bailed it out. While it has lost out on a significant chunk of readers today, aloyal base continues. Unlike the magazines that fall in its genre, theeditorial policy dictates the focus to be less on dramatization and sleaze andmore on the events. Illustrations are few and so is the skin-show. When itmakes its appearance though, it does provoke. The magazine has a sisterpublication ‘Mahanagar Kahaniyaan’, another crime monthly without dollops ofsaleable glamour. Theeditor of the magazine, Ashok Mitra is out of the country. The work continuesto flourish in the wake of the monthly deadline, the staff busy on theircall-centre like work stations. The dustbin brims with crushed tea-cups. I amintroduced to the staff members by Jiten Tiwari, a balding man with a deep,authoritative voice. He works as a legal advisor for the magazine and hadearlier promised to “help with whatever you want. Don’t worry, theek hai?” I greet Virendar Singh andPushkar Pushp, both assistant sub-editors; Kapoor Chand, a new recruit butalready the chief sub-editor. The duo of designers are youngest of the lotamongst the all-male staff. PushkarPushp is the oldest of the staff, working since the magazine shifted its basefrom Allahabad to Delhi in 1983. In his fifties and with an age-wise waist, hestrikes you as a man who of words is bare minimum though not averse to your questions.I ask him what the basis of a story selection is. “Peopleshould be able to identify with the story,” he tells me. “It should convincethem that it can happen even in their vicinity.” It isthe standard mantra followed by every magazine; Manohar Kahaniyaan markedlydisplaying the city name right on the first page of every story. For ManoharKahaniyaan, it is a new development formulated by the editor along with a lotof other changes introduced since 2-3 years like the sleazy illustrations andmodelling. “ManoharKahaniyaan was a family magazine earlier. Now even we can’t carry it home,”says Virendar Singh, another veteran. “In fact, we have observed thatintroducing the imagery has seen a dip in circulation.” “Theseare the orders from the editor. Market surveys are done to gauge what readerswant. We can’t do anything about it,” he says. Theareas where circulation hasn’t dwindled for these magazines are police stationsand military areas. The reports are sourced from freelancers across country,the ones who send their stories along with the charge-sheet of criminals. Theinformation, pictures and version of how events transpire are obtained from thepolice thus making the magazines effectively their mouthpiece. While flickingthrough it, one can’t help but notice several khaki mugshots or those posingwith the criminals from across the country. “We getour stories from them and they love seeing themselves in print. So they too sendtheir pictures along with those of victims and criminals,” says chiefsub-editor Kapoor speaking of their symbiotic relationship. It’s the same withthe writers. They send the stories not out of journalistic fervour but becauseof the fascination of seeing their name in print. The remuneration is `1000- `1500 per story. As iswith every one of these crime magazines, the pictures of the victims arepublished without approval from the family. Even the story is verified, asSingh puts it, “through experience”. While there are times when defamationsuits are filed against the magazines, the magazine maintains that theresponsibility of the story lies solely on the author. “On adifferent note, what’s the job satisfaction like?” I ask. It is atthis time that the otherwise genial and fluidly articulate Kapoor Chand letsout a discomfited smile. I suspect I have touched a sensitive nerve. Momentstick by and his sheepish smile widens. I wait for him to answer. “Samjha karo (Try to understand),” hesays eventually. It’salmost their closing time and I take everyone’s leave as they head back totheir families. Tiwari asks me to stay back for a cup of tea. I tell him aboutthe sniggers earlier in the day. Helaughs. “Chori jab hoti hai, sabse jyadashor chor hi machata hai (When there is a burglary, it’s the thief who makesthe maximum noise).” Madhur Kathayeinis what the stereotypes of these magazines are adhere to. Since its launch in1983, it has gone ahead to be the biggest magazine of the genre, a claimcontested by Manohar Kahaniyaan. The cover page is where skin dominates and insidesare filled with provocative, “dramatic” prose with a generous amount of glamour.One of the prominent features is ‘Photo-fiction’ – the magazine’s proud USP.The section involves telling a story through images and speech bubbles. Moreoften than not, there is a love-making scene, making it one of the most soughtafter magazines in the genre. In a bustlingcommercial complex in Mukherjee Nagar, amongst stationary shops and coachingclasses, lies the office of Nai Sadi Prakashan, the publishers of Madhur Kathayein.The walls of the staircase are tiled in square-shaped tiles with portraits ofvarious deities – from Hindu Lord Shiva to Mother Mary between them. I walk totheir office on the third floor and ask the receptionist, a man in hismid-twenties, for the editor or the manager. The manager isn’t available and Iam directed to Shailabh Rawat, the editor of all the three crime magazines,including the English version of Madhur Kathayein titled ‘Crime and Weekly’. Theoffice of Madhur Kathayein, unlike Manohar Kahaniyaan, also has a few femalestaff members including reporters. Entering through swinging saloon doors, Ifind his cubicle to be a clutter of loose sheets peeping out of multiplefolders stacked unevenly, previous editions of magazines and a desk of drawers. Rawat isa fifty six year old man dressed in a cream coloured jacket overhis black shirt. His own portrait looks at me from a side of the cardboard cubiclewhere it pinned on. If it is anything to go by, the man has a penchant forflaunting metal-strap watches. There isn’t much age-difference between the two.Having worked with the magazine since 1986, he has been one of the integralreasons that the magazine has seen the current subscription glory, I am told bythe man himself. Rawat isthe second oldest amongst three brothers and two sisters in his family. Hehails from Almorah district of Uttarakhand and post-graduated in Hindi andHistory. After getting over his dream of being a Hindi professor, he came toDelhi in 1984 to pursue Indian Administrative Services. But it was the day hesaw the advertisement of Sarita, a Delhi-based Hindi magazine, needing asub-editor that he realized his calling. In 1992,Rawat decided to embark on a nationwide tour to research on the majorprostitution dens. He covered various cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Agraand Varanasi and published a slew of articles in the magazine in addition to abook, ‘Bharat ke Pramukh Deh Bazaar aur Dastoor’. “It wasa very risky job. I had to pose as a customer and get information withoutsounding suspicious. However, it was then that we saw a spike in subscriptionand I realized that it was worth it,” he says. In thecourse of his travels, he stumbled on to many facts that were at once memorableand disturbing. “Thesex-workers are mostly bought off their families for a price. They are to it payoff if at all they want to be free,” he says. “However, when a sex-worker isnearing the complete payment of the debt, the gharwali, the owner, gets the police to raid her den. The workersare jailed and it is then that the same gharwalisteps up, paying the bail, plunging the workers in a fresh debt. It’s a commonpractice.” Rawatrues the fact that there was little recognition from the mainstream media forhis journalism. “People underestimate such magazines. If I was working in anewspaper instead, I would have been famous.” Themagazine subscription stands at a little more than a lakh today. The readership,though, is a lot more. In hamlets of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, copies of themagazine are often rented out at Rs 5 and find about 20-25 readers per issue.One of the prime attractions that the readers look for is Rawat’s pet sectionof photo-fiction. He asks me for the copies of other magazines I have which“copied our style seeing how popular it is,” and proceeds to point out flaws intheir stories. “Theseare five pictures on the same page with a little change in camera angles. Thereisn’t enough light, the models are expressionless,” he launches his tiradebefore settling on to the merits of Madhur Kathayein. “We spend over `25000 per shoot just toensure the quality. And this is why our photo-fiction has been recognized evenby the foreign press.”
|Excerpts from photo-fiction selected for Photoquai 2011, the annual photography exhibition of Musee Du Quai Branly, a museum in France|Rawatdigs through the archives and emerges with a copy of the journal of aParis-based museum Musée Du Quai Branly. He flips through pages and we are inthe ‘Pulp’ section of the journal. I exclaim as I recognize the Hindiphoto-fiction with French and English subtitles. Then he slips at me a November2011 copy of the magazine where there is a 10 page spread on Rawat’s trip toParis for the photo-exhibition. The article, almost as an answer to my awe,read: “The main reason behind this disbelief is that we Indians neverappreciate and evaluate the depth of our art, and capabilities etc.” Thejournal of the exhibition ‘Photoquai 2011’ had a celebratory take on the section.“Taking inspiration from news items, Rawat uses stories to illustrate socialissues: sex, alcohol and money predominate, with regular doses of adultery,lies, blackmail, revenge, humiliation, prostitution and murder. Taking care notto overstep the mark, Photo-fictions has never had the slightest problem withthe censors. The only episode to ever have caused any controversy was onedealing with a male homosexual relationship, in 1994.” MadhurKahaniyaan follows the similar pattern of simmering conflict to physicalintimacy to resolution by elimination to police heroics. It is the explicitnature of the description and the content that lends it the sensation it exudes.In addition, there are often pictures of mutilated corpses published related tothe stories. “Do youthink exposure to so much violence with innovative ways to commit it feeds thetendency?” I ask. “Everystory ends with the criminals being nabbed or killed. That’s a deterrent,” hereplies. “But thephoto-fiction is quite gruesome,” I insist. “There are ones with criminalsconning and successfully getting away, even getting some action while at it.” “Suchstories promote awareness as to what are the ways crime can be committed. Thishelps people secure themselves,” he replies, pokerfaced. As I exit the cabin, Iam carrying with me Rawat’s book, scanned copies of Photoquai 2011 journal and afew copies of crime magazines, all given to me without charging a single penny.“Rakh lo,” is all I am told. Stiffmanner notwithstanding, it is the amiability that leaves an impression.
|(Top) An image from a 'Sex Sarvekshan (survey) 2010' conducted by India Today in 2010; (above) the editions of Outlook and India Today magazines that the owner of Madhur Kahaniyaan points out while lashing out against English magazines and their prudish take on selling sex.|The managingdirector-owner of ‘Madhur Kathayein’, sister publication ‘Mahanagar Kahaniyaan’and ‘Crime and Detective’ is Satish Verma, a short, stubby man with a Frenchbeard and a tobacco-stained voice. It is with a warm smile that he welcomes meinto his air-conditioned cabin. In his background lies a shelf with mementosfrom several book-fairs across India. Publishingruns in Verma’s blood. He started as an in-charge of the film-magazineChitralekha in 1984 before launching Madhur Kathayein in 1986. “Earlier, Madhurwasn’t so glamorous,” he tells me. “But when we launched our second crimemagazine Mahanagar, it instantly became a bestseller. Madhur and Mahanagarstarted competing amongst themselves. So we decided to spruce up Madhur, giveit a unique identity.” It isthe same unique identity that fetched it subscription spikes though not withoutits share of eyebrows and frowns. Verma lashes out at such prudence, especiallythat by the English magazines. “Sex sells. English magazines want to sell sextoo and they do so in the name of surveys. You might pass it off as academicbut why do you need to have explicit imagery with it? Some of it is even moreexplosive than our magazines.” He slips towards me the copies of Outlook andIndia Today with their surveys. With the imagery that accompanied them, he didmake a persuasive case. Comparedto others, Verma is far more open as far as the chief selling proposition ofhis magazine is concerned. Carefully worded, he attributes his sales to thelack of permeation of internet to grassroots. “We know our limits,” he says.“If we would have endorsed pornography, we would have made such magazines andsold like hot cakes.” One of themost alluring prospects I had in mind over the course of interviews was gettinga dekko at the modelling industry, an integral and a thriving aspect of thecrime magazines. Convention is that the photographers are responsible forselection of models. One has to wade through a lot of suspicion and hesitance fromthe editorial team in order to get to the photographers themselves, let alonethe models. I had to repeatedly assure him about my academic intentions before JunaidKhan, sub-editor in Manohar Kahaniyaan, caved in. The manof the moment is Omar Sharif, a photographer working for Manohar Kahaniyaan andother magazines under the patronage of Delhi Press. Accompanying him is SachinKadam, a make-up artist, who started out four years ago, around the same timeas Sharif did. It is early in the evening when I go to the Delhi Press officein Jhandewalan. The photography department is right opposite the studio,wherein work was at the nascent stage for a magazine photo-shoot. I am showedthe interiors of the studio where I recognize some props and backgrounds usedin the illustrations. “A shootfor a story takes almost an entire day,” Sharif tells me as we go back to hisoffice, desks lining the walls of the small room with a computer adjoining thedoor. “We are told what the story is about, given some specifications about thesetting and models required. Then we click according to our own sensibilities,”he tells me. There is a certain element of cautiousness and politicalcorrectness I notice in his straight-faced manner. Kadam, on the other hand, ison a freer rein. He shows me a few of the photo-shoots wherein an entire storyis captured scene by scene. I ask about the profile of models. “Most ofthe models we get are from small towns of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam. Theycome to Delhi without anyone to support or guide them and end up thinkingworking for such magazines is all modelling is about,” says Sharif. Theassignments are given by ‘model coordinators’. Anyone can fall into thecategory – from working professionals to ex-models with a strong network. Thestandard remuneration for models is around `3000. However, budding models are often exploited by thecoordinators who cheat them of their money, hoarding more than their usual 35%. Therearen’t many restrictions to the models needed though the photographersfrequently are in search for fresh faces. “Short, dusky, small-eyed… anythingcan be fixed with make-up and the right costumes,” Kadam tells me. “We don’t havea fixed type.” That the female models have to be voluptuous goes unsaid.
Havingworked for over a year, Kadam and Sharif accustomed to the routine, though yetto be comfortable with it. “In a middle class family like mine, the first thingthat we are told is to protect a woman’s izzat,”says Sharif. “These shoots conflict with our own set of ideals. But kya karein, it is that time in theindustry when nothing sells without glamour.”
A woman,presumably an assistant of a model, comes in the office and Sharif excuseshimself to make arrangements for the shoot. I go through some other albums thatKadam shows me. “I recognize him,” I exclaim looking at one of the male models,a slim youth with a long face and greasy hair. “Isn’t he the one who has workedfor Madhur Kathayein?” “Yes,”Kadam grins. “He is a friend. It was through me that he started modelling forcrime magazines.” And thisis how I find myself at twenty six year old Arun Sharma’s Kudos Dance Academy(pronounced as “Kidos”). His visiting card reads ‘Arun Kashyap’, which heexplains, “…because Kashyap sounds attractive.” The academy is in the basementof a row of closely stacked houses in a narrow, dingy lane opposite ShastriNagar metro station. A young man with a wheatish complexion, his long, sharpnose stands out as much as his flashy stripes-print tee inside his navy-bluejacket. Arun is an affable motormouth, who in spite of knowing about the scopeof my assignment, can’t seem to stop raving about his academy to the point thathe seems reluctant to talk about modelling in crime magazines. He tells meabout his elder brother Guru Sharma who has appeared on the reality show ‘DanceIndia Dance’ and now “tours every place in foreign”.
|Arun Sharma, a model for crime magazines, poses with his trophies at his dance academy|We enterhis office, a small space consisting of a desk propped on which sits his modellingportfolio. Narrow seats line the blue wall, a drawing of sun and mountainstaped on one of them. “This was made by a student,” he tells me, spotting mesmiling at it. “She came up to me and said she made it for me. I found it verysweet and stuck it on the wall.” The secondof his four brothers, Arun has been modelling for print publications more thaneight years. He started out working for features of the newspaper Amar Ujala. He flips through his foldershowing me the neatly kept cut-outs of his and his brother’s exploits. Itwasn’t a difficult journey for him working for local publications with offersstreaming in on a regular basis. It was getting into the big league that was anarduous task, he says, recalling his days when he worked as an extra in theHindi movie Bewafaa. “Har ek ke andar ek hero ghusa hota hai(every person has a hero in him),” he confesses earnestly. It is probably histime of reckoning now that the kids in his colony have started calling him a ‘hero’every time they spot him. After having worked for several years in thenewspapers, Arun happened to meet Sachin Kadam at a party. Kadam offered him achance at modelling for a crime magazine. Not very keen at the onset, Arunshared his contact number anyway. It wasthe time when his close female friend got a chance to model for a crimemagazine that it happened to him. “She said to me, ‘Arun, I am not comfortablegetting intimate with anyone else for a shoot.’ It is common knowledge thatmale models exploit female ones. I had to go along.” He has been featured in anumber of stories in both Madhur Kathayein and Manohar Kahaniyaan’s ever since. Was thefirst time awkward? “For me, a girl looks the best when she isn’t exposingherself. Friend or not, whenever I go for such shoots, I talk to the girls, Ijoke and make every effort to make them feel comfortable,” he says. Gettinginto modelling has not been without its share of dark times. “In this industry,it is all about networking, using others to climb to the top. Sex andnetworking is synonymous,” he says. “I have had my heart broken by the samefriend because I didn’t know this earlier. She said to me, ‘Arun, you are avery simple guy. How could you not figure out I used you?’” Oncethey work for crime magazines, the female models become a ‘type’. Several haveto take off to other cities like Mumbai where models are in demand, to startafresh. “If you study the magazines closely, you will notice that there arehardly young male models like me. They all think working for such corruptedmagazines will ruin your career. But when they age, they grab whatever they getand end up working here.” The coordinators themselves are not without theirpreconceived mindset about models. “They think that the male models are in onlyfor enjoyment. I have been to shoots where I have been paid only Rs 700 and thefemale model was paid Rs 5000.” Iexpress my interest in clicking Arun in his element. “I don’t photograph well,”sheepishly grins the model with an experience of eight years in his kitty. In spiteof having dabbled in the crime modelling world for a number of months, Arunhasn’t dared to reveal it to his parents. “Maarkhaani hai kya (Do you want me to get beaten up?)” he laughs. His brotherand his set of friends know about his activities and they don’t mind. They knowwhat Arun is trying to emulate – the pattern of models becoming actors. On theroad to fame, if one is to work for such magazines, so be it. It’s always theexperience that matters. “Liketake today for example,” he says as he comes to escort you back to the metrostation. “Most of the models would have said no to you asking them about theirprofession. Not me. For me, it was an experience.” “Wasthis your first interview?” I smile. “Yes. Achcha ab batao, of all the interviewsyou have taken, which one did you like the best?”
Vanityis the foundation of the modelling world. Indulgence is the medium through whichpleasant vibes and professional relationships are built. I scratch his backlike he wants me to. The modest smile is priceless.
“See you on Facebook,” he wavesat me.