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Sleaze writer, clean film


NO ORDINARY LIFE: A still from the film set in Manali that follows Mastram, an introverted bank employee.

Mastram, the porn writer, is a familiar name in small town north India. Now a film by the same name tries to tell his story.

An easy way to get noticed in Bollywood is to make a film on a controversial subject. But what if one picks a controversial theme and then opts to make a subtle movie around it? That is precisely what Akhilesh Jaiswal, one of the co-writers of Gangs of Wasseypur, is attempting to do.

Jaiswal's directorial debut, Mastram, has been getting a lot of press lately because of its unusual theme. It is the story of a Hindi pornographic writer by the same name and the 99-minute film is due for an October-November release. But instead of making it a sex-and-sleaze show, a trap most filmmakers would perhaps have fallen into, Jaiswal has chosen to explore the life of his protagonist and portray his inner struggles. "The film is not sleazy, " says Jaiswal, 27. "It's a slice-of-life film. "

This is possibly why it hasn't been easy to find distributors for Mastram. The fact that it is made by a debutant director and has no big star has added to its woes. "We are meeting different distributors, screening the film. If you have a firsttime filmmaker and relatively unknown faces, it can lead to problems, " says Jaiswal.

The idea of a film on the life of a pornographic writer is inspired by true events. Back in the days when porn wasn't available at the click of a mouse or the touch of a cellphone button, Hindi books written by Mastram were fairly common in many parts of north India.

"In the days when I was growing up, there was no internet and only DD and DD Metro when it came to TV. As young boys, we were curious about sex and all there was were adult magazines. But in small towns, even those were rarely available. So we discovered sex through Mastram, " says Jaiswal, who was born and brought up in Bhopal.

The idea of a movie on the writer came to Jaiswal while researching for Gangs of Wasseypur. He wrote the script for Mastram when Gangs of Wasseypur was in the post-production stage. He tried to trace the writer for four months from October 2011 to February 2012 and their search for Mastram took them to Delhi, Bhopal and Allahabad, but it turned out to be futile.

"We realised Mastram was not one person but many people. What seems to have happened is that one person wrote a book, and others followed, using the same pen name. We tried to trace those who had written as Mastram by talking to pulp writers from that era, but we had no success. The books even had fake addresses of the publishers, " says Jaiswal.

Since it was not possible to trace the real Mastram, the character was shaped entirely by the imagination of Jaiswal and his co-writer, Gunjan Saxena. The film is set in Manali where Mastram is an introverted bank employee leading an ordinary middle-class life. He is married and has a loving wife, but his heart lies elsewhere - in becoming an acclaimed Hindi writer. Of course, he ends up penning a different kind of literature, and the film dwells on the inner conflict that this causes.

Rahul Bagga, who plays the lead role, admits he was a little worried when he was first approached for the film. "There is a tendency in Bollywood to compartmentalise actors, so you need to be sure what you are getting into, " he says. The 32-year-old actor has had a substantial role in the Kunal Kapoor starrer Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana (2012) and has acted in a TV series, Powder, on Sony TV. He says he changed his view after reading the script. "I realised there was no sleaze and vulgarity in the film. "

Jaiswal is not worried about the censors. "I We are clear that we will ask for an A certificate, " he says. "Sex is shown very aesthetically in the film, " he adds. "It is mainly conveyed through the narration. "

"The movie is not vulgar, " Bagga agrees. "In fact, you can watch with women and even children. Though it is based on an adult theme, the movie is full of beautiful moments. "

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