Vikram Bhatt's new web series Maaya ignores this important aspect of BDSM

The Ladies Finger

Jan,29 2017 09:47:14 IST

By Nikita Agarwal

A friend of mine tells me that when she was out on a sleepover with her friends from school, they had once sat on the floor in a dark room with EL James’ 50 Shades of Grey in front of them. Each of the girls then took turns to pick up the book, open it to a random page, and read from it under the light of a torch. It would almost always be a sex scene, and they had to read it aloud in a way that made it seem sexy. Most of the time they’d just giggle their way through the reading, but this was the first time my friend wondered about BDSM.

This same friend tells me some years later, that when she discovered Literotica (an erotica website), she first went to the BDSM section. She didn’t actively think she’d like anything there, but she was curious. Most of the stories introduced her to a world that made her uncomfortable — although, as she says, this was probably because, back then, she had learnt to associate the half-hushed, half-giggly way everyone talked about BDSM, with pain. That was until she realised from the stories on Literotica that she liked the idea of being tied up during sex.

Unsurprisingly, she is irritated when I make her watch the trailer of Vikram Bhatt’s new BDSM web series Maaya because of how stereotypical it is. Maaya is the first Indian web series to focus on the BDSM subculture. Bhatt, of course, is the film director (who’s apparently going to be trying his hand at writing erotica) who brought us films such as Dangerous Ishq and Raaz. Since it was announced, everyone’s been calling Maaya an Indian 50 Shades of Grey (much to Bhatt’s irritation), while others, sounding completely bored, have called it a “serialised B-grade movie” in the comments section of the trailer on YouTube.

Shama Sikander in a still from Vikram Bhatt's 'Maaya'

Shama Sikander in a still from Vikram Bhatt's 'Maaya'

In the first episode of the series, we see Sonia having a breakdown when she hears that Rahul (we don’t know yet who he is) has been arrested for the murder of some man called Salim. Soon after, her husband Abhishek finds her standing under the shower, fully clothed, before she passes out in his hands. We find out that Sonia has retrograde amnesia. While Abhishek becomes determined to find out what Sonia was hiding from him, we see Rahul, an architect, telling his lawyer that he was framed for murder.

“Imagine a world full of desires,” begins Bhatt’s trailer. Of course, the first shot we see is of glinting handcuffs being held up in front of Maaya (Shama Sikander). We only see her open lips, most clearly against what look like red walls and black satin sheets. The supposedly steamy sex scene (which is neither steamy nor a sex scene) has the deep voice of a man explaining to us just what BDSM is: “Bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism; the need for one person to control and the other to surrender.” While you wonder about the weird, perhaps supposed to be tantalising way in which the man says all this, we see Maaya bound, gagged, and being spanked with a riding crop.

You’ll remember similar scenes from the 50 Shades of Grey movie — a woman, who looks like she’s nearing an orgasm, her mouth half-open and her eyes closed, riding crop coming down on her as she grabs at the sheets and closes her eyes tighter. But my horrified friend tells me that in Bhatt’s show, hearing the man announce, “I am a dominant and you are a submissive,” to a woman on her knees on the floor with her hands tied behind her back, made BDSM seem like an excuse for the man to get what he wanted. There was no sense of desire or pleasure for both of them: It was as though the man was just controlling the woman. It reminded me of what Jaya Sharma, the founder of Kinky Collective, a group that seeks to raise awareness about BDSM, wrote in this piece for Mint, “In BDSM, consent is sacrosanct. There are a range of mechanisms to ensure that consent is given and taken proactively and enthusiastically.” A feeling that wasn’t made clear in the script.

The first two episodes of Maaya, which released on 27 January, are as bad as the show’s trailer. The trailer gets hijacked by the drama of Sonia (whose online, BDSM-loving persona is Maaya) conveniently getting retrograde amnesia, and her husband finding out her secret only to decide that he will cheat on her because he wants er… revenge. Similarly, the show’s first two episodes also throw in a murder, just in case all that drama wasn’t enough.

In the first episode, we also get introduced to a terrified Sonia waking up in hospital from a strange dream-like state. In the dream, we see her hypnotically following a masked man who tells her that he likes that she’s afraid, before using a pair of scissors to cut off her hospital gown, running them along her collar bone, and cutting off her bra straps before he disappears. All the while he murmurs, “You like pain, don’t you? You want me to hurt you? Beg me,” followed by more stereotypical lines that we’ve come to associate with BDSM.

I suspect that my friend’s worry — that the show is really just about male dominance and a man’s pleasure, rather than BDSM — is becoming true by the second episode. Here we see Rahul (the man in the trailer who tells us what BDSM is while Sonia kneels) working on his laptop in his office late at night. He says he writes BDSM erotica under a woman’s name, and this seems fine — until we hear him write the story from the woman’s perspective.

Rahul makes the woman in his story strip in a dark empty office and kneel with her right cheek touching the floor and her hands behind her back as a man circles her. It makes me uncomfortable that Bhatt chooses to have a man telling the story of a woman’s pleasure. There’s no sense of consent or desire from her part in the story he imagines, only his. We can’t even be sure she’s enjoying this a little bit. It reminds me of what Sharma says about pleasure in BDSM: “Most importantly, these ways of understanding and giving consent are in sync with the nature of human desire and with our need to explore, give up or take control, and importantly, our need to pursue pleasure, and not only protect ourselves from harm.” Bhatt conveniently forgets that a woman’s pleasure is part of this too.

None of the women in Bhatt’s show are working women except for Sonia’s doctor, and she doesn’t do much either. Sonia doesn’t have a job and neither do her friends (perhaps Bhatt thought there was enough drama in Sonia’s life, with her being a married woman who must feel guilty about her affair and the amnesia and what not). In the scene where we are introduced to Rahul’s wife, she says she’s had such a hectic day, only to go on to describe her Italian lunch with her girlfriends, and lots of shopping. Perhaps it isn’t at all a surprise that Bhatt’s BDSM series only confirms for us that he doesn’t really know how to write about women. Or sex.

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Updated Date: Jan 29, 2017 09:52 AM