This paper looks at the genre of soft pornography in the Malayalam-speaking south Indian state of Kerala and the precarious stardom of its female stars through a close look at the career of Shakeela, an actress who became the emblematic soft-porn star of the 1990s. It interrogates how Shakeela's outsider status and her heavyset body type foregrounded her as the locus of Malayali society's conflicted relationship with sex and desire while also creating a set of parallel film practices that challenged the hierarchies of the mainstream film industry. By 2001 more than 70 percent of the total films produced in Malayalam were soft porn, and a good number of them featured Shakeela. The mainstay of soft-porn productions was the strategic positioning of the female lead as a cultural outsider—a transient figure who is both a threat and a source of exoticized desire. Shakeela's emergence as a “liberated” woman who flaunts her sexuality despite social norms was so strong that it destabilized Kerala's hero-centric mainstream industry for a time, leading to what was popularly called Shakeela tharangam, the “wave of Shakeela.”
The Rise of Soft Porn in Malayalam Cinema and the Precarious Stardom of Shakeela
Darshana Sreedhar Mini is a PhD candidate in the Division of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California. Her dissertation explores precarious media formations such as low-budget films produced in the south Indian state of Kerala, mapping their transnational journeys. Her work is supported by the Social Science Research Council. Her research interests include feminist media, gender studies, South Asian studies, and media ethnography. She has published in Bioscope: South Asian Screen Studies, South Asian Popular Culture, Journal for Ritual Studies, and International Journal for Digital Television. An earlier version of this article was Third Prize in the 2017 Society for Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Student Writing Awards.
Darshana Sreedhar Mini; The Rise of Soft Porn in Malayalam Cinema and the Precarious Stardom of Shakeela. Feminist Media Histories 1 April 2019; 5 (2): 49–82. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2019.5.2.49
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