In Orissa, the Cuttack city police recently arrested a 60-year-old man for raping his teenaged granddaughter. The man confessed that a sexually explicit, raunchy Oriya music video number incited him to commit this crime.
Sleazy music on video compact discs (VCDs) and audiocassettes - with visual images, lyrics and sound that turn the female body into a mere commodity for sexual pleasure - are easily available throughout the state. The five- to seven-year-old trend in Orissa points to yet another dimension fuelling sexual violence against women.
Full of double entendres, lascivious insinuations, and fast-paced and loud rhythmic music, with visuals projecting the female body as an inviting sexual object, these "hot" numbers are selling like hot cakes.
For instance, a 45-minute VCD and audiocassette titled 'Grand-dad Granddaughter Pharse' (farce misspelt) has the two characters tease, taunt and titillate each other with innuendoes and sexual metaphors understood by the man on the street:
"Your grandmother old is already in the garage, granddaughter, You give me just one chance."
"You are an old motorcycle, grandfather, You just cannot kick-start."
A runaway bestseller during the October-November (2004) festival season, this song was a crowd-puller in most of the late-night, roadside shows. It presented half-a-dozen nubile girls on stage, taunting grandfathers for being past their prime and time.
According to unofficial estimates of established music directors in the state, about 1,000 new music video and audiocassettes are released into the Orissa market every year, 95 per cent of which contain crude, sexually explicit lyrics and sleazy visuals. The turnover of this non-cinema music industry was Rs 40 million in 2003 (1US$=Rs 45).
Approximately 200 operators are manufacturing these cassettes; and only 12 of these are registered as companies. The trend began in 1999, and in 2001 about 140 operators had already jumped onto the bandwagon. Of these, only five were registered as music companies. Today, as before, most of these operators are fly-by-night producers, with no authentic postal address. They operate in the grey market and continue to rake in the moolah; and as this genre of sleaze music is becoming more popular by the day, the raunchy content is also on the increase.
Such is the demand for these audiocassettes that the already cheap original available for Rs 35 per audiocassette - has been pirated. The pirated version sells for Rs 22 per piece; while the blank cassette cost Rs 10 and the recording Rs 2, the pirating company rakes in Rs 8 and the retail seller makes Rs 2. The large volume of sales more than make up for the apparently low margins of profit.
Besides, this industry has become a quick money-churner because production costs can be kept low without impacting profitability. In the first place, the consumers of sleaze music are not looking for technical excellence in production. The sure-success "masala" (spicy) menu implies lots of flesh (read women), sexually suggestive, and sometimes explicit lyrics, and loud music tracks that excite the libido in the young and old alike.
The young women featuring in the video productions are - in most cases - roped in for free because they are aspiring to be "discovered" as models or film stars; and a new music director is preferred over an experienced one, to keep costs low. Many of these 45-minute, eight-song video tracks are filmed in local parks and hotels. And a music video can be produced for anything between Rs 20,000 to 40,000.
Sexual innuendoes have also been introduced into devotional songs to up sales. The current trick is to make the title song "appetizing" even if it is couched in lyrics that are meaningless and very far from pious. A hugely popular so-called devotional audiocassette starts with - "The green coconuts are full with water, queen of the house", alluding to women's breasts, and at the same time referring to the practice of devotees (on pilgrimage tours in buses) offering coconuts in temples. Consequently, men in buses all over the state now commonly use the line "driver brother, take coconuts" for verbal sexual harassment of women and girls.
Even Lord Jagannath is referred as the "black bull". The entire pantheon of gods and goddesses are similarly denuded of their divinity by these lewd music productions. Such devotional songs often blare from the music systems at festival gatherings, paan (betel leaf-selling) shops, barber shops, Internet cafes, and on public transport. It hardly seems to matter that many people cringe at the blatant crudeness of the songs.
While films made in Orissa, including their music, are overseen by a state government censor board, there is no mechanism of censorship for non-film music. After an uproar in the Orissa Legislative Assembly two years ago, the Department of Culture was authorized to take a pro-active role in pushing the police to act on complaints against objectionable music. However, not a single complaint has been registered since then.
Adverts for these sleaze music productions as well as the video productions are prominently telecast through local television channels even though the police - under Section 192 of the Indian Penal Code - can book producers.
Section 192 states that the "sale, etc of obscene books...representation, figure or any other object, shall be deemed to be obscene, if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest or if its effect...tends to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely to see, read or hear the matter contained...in it." The sale, distribution or public exhibition of such material is punishable with imprisonment from two to five years and a fine of Rs 2000 to Rs 5000.
Old-time music directors and singers are aghast at this tide of degradation overtaking the music industry. Santanu Mohapatra, President of the Sangeet Natak Akademi in Orissa, feels that serious attempts need to be made to arrest the popularity of such mindless music by countering it with the rich folk music tradition the state already has.
Other concerned citizens suggest that NGOs or civil society groups should consider social censorship like the public burning of obscene music cassettes. For the producers and retail sellers of sleaze music however, "the consumer is king", and all other considerations are irrelevant.