Ten years ago…or, even two years ago, imagine what film stars in India have been doing for Holi? No, not playing dirty in a Bollywood party…I’m referring to the part where they address their fans. It used to be that a leading TV channel (such as MTV India) goes around and shoots small video pieces of the stars wishing their fans a ‘Happy Holi’ and these used to aired on TV.
In the past two years, these stars also started wishing their fans on Twitter, assuming the fans are waiting for their wishes, every year.
One enterprising woman went a step further, this year. Having already started the glorious trend of sharing photos in itsy-bitsy costumes, Poonam Pandey posted a full 2+ minute high quality (video quality, I’m not referring to the content quality, which I happened to ‘witness’, for academic purposes!) video, for her fans (sic).
She actually had a countdown with the hashtag #DirtyPlayofPoonamPandey. An Indian ‘fan’ from Canada even posted a tweet in the middle of the countdown indicating how interested people may be, for this video release.
#DirtyPlayofPonamPandey its 3 AM in Canada and i m still awake to see your #Video. Everything is set.
I came to know about the video’s existence when The Times of India reported that the video had been yanked out of YouTube for being too raunchy, but, thankfully (for her fans), the video is doing well on Bollywood Hungama, a website meant for Bollywood stuff, but which found it appropriate to add a video about a person who has no connection with Bollywood (yet) and is bordering on semi-porn. Interesting digression, that.
Not just Poonam Pandey. Add Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhat to that list. Oh no, they are not stripping for holi – they just happen to be stand-up comics who have a new online-only audio show called All India Bakchod. I’m glued to this show because it feels like what I’d overhear friends chatting uninhibitedly, after four pegs, in a pub. It is hilarious and worth multiple listens of each episode. I usually have tears in my eyes as I laugh my guts out, listening to each episode – their repetitive imitation of Salman Khan alone is worth the listen!
The common thread between this show and Poonam Pandey’s act (video and photos, together) is that they are way too racy for mainstream media in India. If it was pure, primal sleaze in Poonam Pandey’s case, it is a super generous sprinkling of MC, BC and F in Khamba and Tanmay’s show – but those words don’t mean what they mean literally. BC, in their show almost means, ‘anyway’. Or, ‘Oh I didn’t know that!’. Plus, they make it a point to offend every single living organism on the planet and that only makes the show funnier.
The point is, these people have found a perfect distribution vehicle on the internet.
A couple of months ago, American comedian Louis CK made global news by disintermediating media and middlemen and going direct-to-consumers with DRM-free videos sold online by himself. He reportedly sold 110,000 downloads in 4 days! As everybody who understood the whole story also noted, it helped that Louis CK had an existing fan following, given his viral video of his appearance on the Conan show and has also starred in a TV show.
So, much like our Bollywood stars, he was merely using his clout built already with some help from mainstream media to his use…and with great monetary success.
Poonam Pandey, Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhat are quite different. They are not mainstream media stars. They don’t have anything to do with mainstream media at all, in fact.
Poonam hasn’t starred in anything remotely Bollywood; she’s supposed to be a model of sorts whose only
claim to fame, so far, was an open offer to strip for the Indian cricket team, as a motivation for them to win. There are whispers of her working on something big for Bollywood, but they seem like mere rumors. Khamba and Tanmay are stand-up comedians who perhaps find this online show as a good way to introduce their style and work, free-of-cost, and in turn get paying crowds to their stand-up shows all across India (if you listen to the list of shows planned they talk listeners through, at the end of each show). If at all, they have built their following almost exclusively via Twitter.
The logical question then is, can they do what Louis CK did in the US, in India? That is, sell stuff online and make a neat profit.
The content, in both cases, is risqué, in strictly Indian terms (imagine – this is what Mahesh Bhatt has been dying to do, for years, but still is working with mainstream media vehicles and Indian censors!). They would definitely not make it to any conventional mainstream media vehicle. The internet seems like the perfect vehicle for them to distribute their material, at least till a certain Mr.Sibal decides that their content is not worth Indians’ attention for assorted reasons like the Congress President, her son, the many religions of this glorious nation and the many moods of a lot of nutcases in the country.
But, what if they start selling their material, online? Gursimran and Tanmay may still give these shows free in order to support and build an audience for their offline shows, for which people pay real money, but Poonam Pandey’s case is different. She doesn’t seem to be having an offline show to promote (at least to my knowledge) and is steadily seen to be fitting an image of herself she has cultivated online. In any case, her content belongs to a totally primal feeling of mankind, unlike Khamba and Tanmay’s content, which is humor, a comparatively acquired taste.
Besides Indians worrying about credit card payments for buying Poonam Pandey’s videos sold online (or streamed online) and how to hide them from their parents and wives, I’d assume it would be a path-breaking venture. Given the primal nature of interest in these videos, they could perhaps do relatively better than Khamba and Tanmay’s funny audio shows, but one can never say, for sure.
Just take a look at the comments All India Bakchod gets – the last one (Episode 3) had 2 parts, across 2 weeks and the 2nd part was only 13 minutes, as against the usual 20+ minutes. And there was a flurry of complaints for this. Will these people pay for an episode is a moot point, but like they are trying to sell their offline shows through free online material now, I’m sure they could try to work out a plan for selling stuff online. It may need careful planning – to distribute comic material judiciously between free (online), paid (online) and paid-offline shows. It may also need them to work on the budgets – the cost for recording the material in a professional studio vs. the cost it is made available to online buyers (either as a download or as a stream).
In comparison, Poonam Pandey’s job is even more difficult. This may sound crude, but here goes – she has one body to display, as raw material for her shows. She’d need to use her creativity in cooking scripts to present herself best, in episode after episode. If that sounded horribly crude, please get out of your prudish Indian mode and do some background reading of the porn industries in the US and Europe – it’s a different economy altogether, when legalized.
Another comparison is that of blogs and text-based content online – most of these are not behind a pay-wall – they are solely supported by advertising, usually Google AdSense.
So, from e-commerce-fuelled businesses in India, we may perhaps witness a new trend where e-commerce fuels businesses of individuals. This is vastly different from social media and social networking fueling individuals’ businesses in India – for example, a social media guru actively engaging people on social networks to build a profile for himself, to get a social media job or be called for social media conferences. In a way, the closest example may be that of writers and authors from India using social media engagement to fuel offline sales of their printed books. There are many, many examples of this anyway – Kiran Manral (The Reluctant Detective), Shakti Salgaokar (Imperfect Mr Right), Arnab Ray (The Mine) and even film critic-turned film-maker Sudhish Kamath and his debut film ‘Good Night Good Morning’. However, the difference is that the sales for these items were through platforms not owned by them (physical book stores or e-commerce websites). Where Poonam Pandey, Gursimran Khamba and Tanmay Bhat could make a difference is to not just own the promotional vehicle (Twitter, SoundCloud), but also own the sale vehicle.
It’s not all that difficult, actually – BandCamp, for example offers an easy way to start selling your audio material and takes only a 15% commission from each sale. There are many Indian bands and artists who already use BandCamp to make their material available for sale and I’ve bought – with fabulous ease – a few of such albums already. Poonam Pandey has a slightly more difficult task – making videos available for sale as a download or streams. But for someone who hires a professional to shoot her cavorting in next-to-nothing costumes with holi colors and a water tube squirting water incessantly at all the wrong (right?) places, that may be much simpler problem to solve.
The other related issue is that of censorship – more so when they go for sale, commercially, than they are now – free. As MediaName notes here, it is far easier to ban ebooks in India, than physical books and Poonam Pandey (or All India Bakchod) may find their content banned/blocked much faster than in the offline world.