Seeking Sunny Leone: Academic Writing on Indian Erotica

Read the full piece at Critical Collective, a global India-based web journal of fine arts. 

One sweltering Delhi May, hot on the research trail of visual and cinematic erotica, I wandered through the back lanes and offices of the B-film marketers of Chandni Chowk. A family friend—we’ll call him Deepak Uncle— had agreed to show me the shop from where he imported and disseminated Hindi and foreign B films.

The dingy walls of his cramped office gleamed with glossy rows of posters bearing lurid legends: Asian School Girls! Shark ki Atank! Supernatural women leered forward mid-action shot, breasts straining from their bodices. “Barely-legal” teens preened in eroticized plaid schoolgirl skirts.  And—my personal favorite—a simpering woman jutted her hip, a pistol peeking jauntily from her barely-there bikini bottom.

From the film posters lining city walls to the erotic reading sold at newsstands, the print visual culture of popular erotica is alive and well in contemporary India. Yet thanks to a series of technological changes — the rise of the internet, the increasing penetration of smartphone use, and the changing cinematic economy (Vasudevan 2010) (McQuire 2008) (Sharma 2003)  — to witness contemporary popular sexual imagery, we would do well to turn from the labyrinths of Old Delhi to the seemingly endless maze of erotic imagery online.

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