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It’s not just kissing that India is finally embracing—it’s porn stars


People in India are now kissing each other in public, the New York Times reported last week. The story—which began with the requisite “India may be the birthplace of the Kama Sutra…”—was mocked among many Indians and described by at least one outlet as a “real stop the press moment.” The website, Firstpost.com, wrote a biting piece ridiculing the New York Times for not just insinuating that Indians previously didn’t kiss in public, but also in private. With a population of a billion people and counting, Indians seem to be doing just fine with kissing—and everything thereafter.

In fact, the real story in India is that sex is being embraced like never before. The best proof of this is in our most mainstream of institutions—Bollywood.

We’re not just talking about scintillating plot lines and showcasing more flesh. Consider that Sunny Leone, Penthouse Pet of the Year of in 2003 and a hardcore porn star, has found wide acceptance in India. For a porn star to cross over into mainstream cinema is hard enough in the US, but few would have believed possible in India. Leone’s break came when she starred in the Indian version of the globally syndicated reality show, Big Boss, along the way helping drive ratings. She then earned a starring role in Jism 2, a Bollywood movie, making front-page news almost weekly. Quickly, Leone became a household name and her porn-star past didn’t seem to hurt her a bit. Jism 2, made on a shoestring budget of approximately $1.5 million, grossed more than $4 million in its first weekend alone.

Not to be outdone by the Canada-raised Leone, homegrown Indian starlets are getting bolder as well. Poonam Pandey became instant tabloid fodder by announcing she would strip if the Indian team won the cricket World Cup. When India did win the World Cup, Pandey tweeted a picture of herself with no clothes on, private parts strategically covered. Pandey’s Twitter following has just crossed 300,000 followers. The Hindustan Times estimated her earnings to be greater than a $1 million a year.

And then there’s Sherlyn Chopra, who was supposed to appear nude in the November issue of Playboy. That didn’t happen, but she garnered headlines across India nonetheless when she tweeted pictures from of herself at the Playboy mansion. Chopra, like Pandey, is a struggling Bollywood actor. According to news reports, she wrote to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner directly asking if she could pose nude. Hefner, sensing a publicity coup readily agreed; the pictures are yet to be published.

It’s not just starlets that are pushing boundaries in Bollywood. Vicky Donor, one of the top grossing films of 2012, tells the story of a down-on-his-luck twenty-something named Vicky, who encounters a down-on-his-luck doctor who works at a sperm donation clinic. Vicky has super sperm, and he and the doctor become a huge hit in the sperm donor business. They are truly the Breaking Bad Walter and Jessie of sperm donation, keeping their business dealings secret from their families (though the business is entirely legal). Made with a budget of less than $1 million, the movie earned more than $10 million. Sex sells in Bollywood.

It’s obvious why this is happening. The internet has allowed young Indians to become global citizens; they are seeing and wanting the same things as people in New York or London or Rio. So Sunny Leone may not have appeared in any television series or movies in India before 2011, but plenty of Indians knew her work online. India’s infamous censors can only block so much. Compared to what Indians are consuming in public and private, kissing is downright tame.

Follow Prashant Agrawal on Twitter @agrawalprashant. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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