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A Soft Porn Star’s Life

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Extracts from the autobiography of Shakeela, South India’s celebrity soft-porn star who wouldn’t go completely nude
To understand how popular Shakeela is down South, you have to read the three-year- old autobiography of Surayya Bhanu. Bhanu, a Chennai-born Commerce graduate, had developed a passion for cinema since childhood. She ended up on the margins of the Tamil film industry as a body double for porn stars unwilling to go completely nude. Like Shakeela. Bhanu filled those ‘gaps’. She exposed her nude body in bedroom and bathroom scenes in almost all Shakeela films. In the book, Bhanu talks about the South Indian porn market’s crush on plump women: Shakeela’s body type. Bhanu was slim when she began her career. Later, on realising the popular demand for well-endowed curves and heavy thighs, she put on weight and shaped herself to ‘industry standards’. It gave her the chance to play Shakeela’s double.

Recently, Shakeela put out her own autobiography in Malayalam. Published by Olive Publications and titled Shakeela: Autobiography, its cover line says, ‘I am not guilty but I am sad’.

In the book, she talks about exploitation by her family right from childhood and her experience of sexual abuse by male teachers. That pattern changed little after she entered the world of cinema. To Shakeela, acting is a thankless job, as miserable as real life.

Extracts from her autobiography:

Why should I write my autobiography? Is there anything to learn from me? I said ‘no’ to the publisher who approached me with the idea of a book on my life. I am not Mother Teresa. Mine is an artificial life and so are the films I acted in. Then why do I write such a book? This was the initial thought I had. Later I changed my mind. I am a woman like any other; who wanted to love and be loved and to live a happy and peaceful life. No one knows what I am and what I went through. No one knows how my name has become a synonym for erotic desire. I decided to write this book on myself because people should know how a Shakeela is formed and shaped.

During an interview, a journalist once told me that I was the woman who embodied the sexual desire of Malayalee youth. When somebody is hungry, we have to give them food. Nothing else will make them happy. My cinema was nothing but the erotic display of my body. No one might have seen the woman in me and the actress in me. There was a time when I used to get remuneration that was much higher than leading actresses. I was flying from one location to another. I worked in films day and night, and there was a time when I hardly got a few hours to sleep. On several occasions, I fell asleep during bedroom scenes. People watching the movie would never have known that my eyes were closed because I could not control my sleep. They might have thought that I was performing an orgasm on screen. For everyone, I was nothing more than an erotic body. Nobody cared about exploring the actress in me.

My entry to this career was through a film in which Silk Smitha played the leading role. She was an ever inspiring presence to me. I have never met any other actress as charming as Smitha. The beauty of her body was transcended by her deep black eyes. Play Girls was a sex education movie in which I acted the role of Smitha’s sister. It was directed by RD Shekhar and produced by Umashankar, a make-up man with whom I had an acquaintance. Umashankar had promised me a good role in the film, and asked me to go to AVM Studio to meet the director. It was like a dream come true. There was hardly any screen test. The director looked at me, asked me a few questions and told me to get ready for the shoot next day.

Later, I was told by Umashankar that the role that I had to do was that of Silk Smitha’s sister. I could not believe it. I could not sleep that night. I was deeply confused. Do I really deserve this? Am I eligible to act with an actress of her heights?

I reached the studio in the morning, next day. I was asked to change my costume. I was given a mini skirt and a pair of stockings. I did not like that costume. I was not feeling comfortable, but I did not want to object as it was the moment of a long cherished dream coming true. It was a pleasant surprise that my first shot was with Smitha. When she comes out of her room, I have to give her a cup of tea and tell her ‘Sister, please have a cup of tea’. Then Smitha would slap my face. The shot was ready and the camera was on. I gave her the tea, and rendered the dialogue politely. As scripted, she slapped me. It was a real heavy slap. I was numb with shock. It was extremely painful. I could not control my tears. That was the only shot taken that day. I was crying and wanted to go back home. Smitha came and tried to hug me. She apologised and told me she had done it for the perfection of the shot. I couldn’t accept her explanation. I thought she did it only because she was a star and I was a beginner. Later, I changed my mind when I saw that Smitha was a very kind human being. The next day she took me to her house for lunch. She amazed me with her humility, dedication to work and punctuality. The news of her suicide was one of the saddest moments in my life. I don’t know what might have prompted her to do it. It remains a mystery.

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