Home >Mint-lounge >Features >Film Review | Mastram

The list of biopics being increasingly churned out by the Hindi film industry has an unusual addition—a “fictional biography" of Hindi porn writer Mastram, whose fevered imagination has enlivened the days and nights of men of all ages. Writer and debutant director Akhilesh Jaiswal has acknowledged in interviews that little is known about Mastram, and that he reveals himself mostly through lurid fantasies of deep-breathing nurses and obliging neighbours. Could he possibly be many persons hiding behind a pseudonym—a common trick in the publishing of popular fiction? In the absence of a unique narrative arc for Mastram, Jaiswal opts for the simplest one—the underdog who becomes a star.

The 98-minute movie is set in the 1980s, which is as exciting as the sixties for a section of Bollywood. Before he reinvents himself as a successful planter of wet dreams, Mastram goes by the name of Rajaram (Rahul Bagga, the television actor from Powder), a luckless writer who’s trying to hawk his literary masterpieces to unwilling publishers. In his new avatar, he gets money without fame—since he’s hiding behind a pen name—but still craves respectability. Writer’s block beckons when Rajaram’s creative juices begin to run dry. After all, how many different ways can there be to describe the old in-out?

Since the story isn’t real but imagined, Jaiswal feels no need to explain how porn publishing works. He doesn’t tell us about Mastram’s competitors. Was he the only one? The first one? He doesn’t deconstruct Mastram’s characterisations or comment on his florid prose. He doesn’t probe the writer’s fantasies about his wife having a Savita Bhabhi moment or two. He doesn’t care for the one-sidedness of pornography created by men for male consumption. For Jaiswal, the very fact that he has peeked under the sheets and found a much-thumbed copy of a Mastram novel there is satisfying enough. No surprises into the nature of Indian sexual desire disturb Rajaram’s orderly journey, and Bagga’s limp performance makes the character even less interesting. There are only moments of the frisson that characterises humankind’s fascination with the verboten, conveyed more through Mastram’s language than the visuals of open-mouthed women waiting to spill out of their clothes at the slightest provocation.

Mastram released in theatres on Friday.

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