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Meet India's first porn star

A racy cartoon attracts millions and, of course, controversy in conservative circles.

(Courtesy of Savita Bhabhi)

NEW DELHI — Thanks to an anonymous group of computer geeks, India's first international Internet porn star is fast becoming this conservative country's answer to Wonder Woman — and Monica Lewinsky.

But here's the trick: The steamy web seductress is a cartoon.

Meet the creator of Savita Bhabhi.

Turning the tables on Bollywood's demure heroines — who've only recently started agreeing to lip-to-lip kisses on screen — “Savita Bhabhi” (or sister-in-law Savita) is a buxom, recently married housewife who knows what she wants and how to get it.

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Bored with her workaholic husband, she seduces door-to-door salesmen, neighborhood cricket players, even a not-so-subtle stand-in for the gray-bearded Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan — a move that earned her some flak from Indian entertainment channels.

Though pornography is illegal in India, Savita Bhabhi's sexual misadventures, published on savitabhabhi.com with scripts based on fantasies submitted by fans, have attracted a huge following, according to one of the strip's anonymous creators, who goes by the screen name Deshmukh.

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“We get 60 million unique visitors every month. The average time a visitor spends on our site is more than 10 minutes,” the site administrator told GlobalPost by email. “Almost
70 percent of our traffic is from India, while the rest is from the U.S., U.K. and more than 80 other countries.” (Read more about my interview with this secret creator of Savita Bhabhi, here).

Part of the reason for its success is its diversity. With the help of volunteers — recent posts on the Savita Bhabhi fan site read “Urgent! Calling all script writers!” and “We need translators! Are you up for it?” — Savita's creators publish the strip in 10 different Indian languages, along with English.

By all appearances, it's a tough job. In another recent fan post, a user named Srinkar pleads, “If possible, develop your Bengali language up to date, as most of us are eagerly waiting to take the maximum pleasure through the mother tongue.” Indeed.

But the secret to Savita's popularity isn't so much her Pamela Anderson proportions as her roots in Indian culture. Complaining about a long digression featured in one episode, a user called Sex Drive explains, “The reason SB is so popular is because people fantasize about a sari clad bhabhi being so raunchy and sexually liberated. You take her out of the equation and the fantasy just ends there.”

Dr. Prakash Kothari, an eminent Bombay sexologist, explains. “Bhabhi means sister-in-law, or brother's wife. Most men are quite intimate with and take advice from their bhabhi. It's someone who's there to advise you, to help you, to make fun of you, to crack jokes, whom you can ask any intimate questions.”

And an object of sexual fantasy? In Indian culture, sex with your bhabhi isn't taboo on the order of Oedipus, the doc says, but it isn't kosher, either. “It's not welcome, it's not permitted, it's not accepted by society. Having advice from your own bhabhi is acceptable, but having sex with her is not.”

“[A] bhabhi is the Indian version of a MILF,” explained Deshmukh, who came up with the idea for the comic while boozing it up with fellow Indian exiles in the U.S. “Though in literal terms it means your “brother’s wife” — that is not the meaning here. For an Indian youngster his first fantasy is normally the newly married hot woman in the neighborhood who is referred to as a hot Bhabhi. Hence it seemed only natural that our hot heroine whom the entire neighborhood lusts after be called Savita Bhabhi.”

There's obviously a spoof factor here. But the slightly zany aspects of an impossibly curvaceous middle-class housewife slipping out of her sari for, say, a “special massage” from her servant boy doesn't account for Savita Bhabhi's massive following.

That lies in the cleverness of the comic's creators, who have tapped into current anxieties about the social changes brought about by modernity as well as nostalgia for past forms of printed entertainment.

“One of the reasons for creating SB was to also portray that Indian women have sexual desires too,” Deshmukh said. “India is a country which is still sexually repressed and I feel that for it to break the shackles, it is the women of India who are going to have to come out first. We are already seeing that in a way, and hopefully SB will do her bit to help in this revolution.”

That repression — and the temptation to escape it — is a big part of the comic's appeal, explains sociologist Sanjay Srivastava, the author of "Passionate Modernity: Sexuality, Class and Consumption in India." “It plays upon a well-established male anxiety and desire — wanting and being scared of the modern woman,” he said. “It's good to have a modern woman as a girlfriend, but [as the serial cuckolding of Savi's husband illustrates] it's dangerous to have her as a wife.”

At the same time, though, Savita Bhabhi offers a bit of humor for the 30-something generation who grew up with the ubiquitous Amar Chitra Katha comics depicting tales from Hindu religious mythology. “[It] also borrows from that artwork,” says Srivastava. “So for some people some of the pleasure is that it's a kind of satire of those religious comic books.”

Nevertheless, not every bastion of tradition is unassailable, according to some fans.

“I am not able to log on to the website as it is banned in UAE,” writes Bhushan Ar. “I tried with proxy but no use ... kindly help guys, I am the newest fan of bhabhi.”

Read more GlobalPost dispatches by Jason Overdorf:

In India, love hurts

Tigers of India: Tourism to the rescue?

India's missing children

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/india/090430/indias-first-porn-star