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Rags to Riches: India’s Porn App Boom Needs to Thank COVID-19

The pandemic also lead to a boom in the business of porn videos shot in India. 

Published
Entertainment
5 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>Mumbai Police claims over 150 platforms showing porn mushroomed in Maharashtra over the next 12 months after lockdown was declared in March 2020 due to COVID-19&nbsp;</p></div>
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The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 not only saw a boom in COVID-19 cases, its also saw a boom in an industry which otherwise is considered “forbidden” in India.

After a recent crackdown on OTT platforms that showcase pornographic content in the name of ‘erotica’, Mumbai Police has now revealed that there are over 150 such platforms operating in Maharashtra.

Mumbai Police claims to have closed down over 15 such applications. The police says these applications were inspired by an app called ‘HotShots’ which was reportedly previously owned by actor Shilpa Shetty’s husband Raj Kundra. His former manager Umesh Kamat has also been arrested by the Crime Branch in the case.

Cyber Crime Team Cracks Down on Apps Showing Porn

The process of shutting down such applications started in December 2020, when the Maharashtra Cyber Crime Department sent notices to big apps like Alt Balaji for showing explicit content. The Maharashtra Cyber Police department had registered a case against streaming service Alt Balaji and several production houses, directors and actors, for allegedly transmitting pornographic content.

The police invoked sections of the Indian Penal Code, the IT Act and the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act in the FIR against 13 streaming services at the time. When investigations came to a brief halt due to the pandemic, several other OTT platforms sprang up.

The brains behind this 'porn OTT' business model was a small time model turned producer and her husband, both of whom were already a part of the showbiz industry.

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Mumbai Couple Involved In Porn Video Racket

According to the police, Yasmeen Khan alias Rowa, aged 40, and her husband Dipankar Khasanvis alias Shyam Banerjee, aged 36, are said be the brains behind this business.

Rowa was a small time model and Shyam was a cinematographer in Bollywood. They both reportedly met at a film event, fell in love and eventually got married. It was during the lockdown period that Rowa and Shyam thought of shooting porn videos and uploading them on social media sites.

At the time they were also contacted by a certain Yash Thakkur from Singapore, who offered them a huge price for a 30-minute porn video clip. Both the accused have reportedly never met Yash Thakkur in person. All their communication and conversations were through phone calls and emails only.

Mumbai Police claims to have shut down 15 such apps so far.
Mumbai Police claims to have shut down 15 such apps so far.
(Photo: Apps advertised on Facebook, modified by The Quint)

“Thakkur would ask them to mail the link of the video and pay them accordingly. For a few months they both worked for Thakkur and provided porn videos to platforms like Fliz Movies and Nuefliks. The servers of these platforms are said to be in Singapore,” says Inspector Dheeraj Kohli from the Property Cell of the Mumbai Crime Branch.

He further says, “It was Rowa who thought of starting her own OTT platform. So, she contacted girls who wanted to make quick money during the lockdown. They shot the videos on hi-end mobile phones and sent it to Rowa, who would edit them and then post them on the OTT platform called HotHit.”

The Modus Operandi

The application was available on Play Store and one could acquire it for a monthly subscription of Rs199. Rowa reportedly got a lot of business during lockdown and the revenue went up to crores of rupees.

They would spend Rs 1 lakh on a 30-minute episode and would mint around Rs 4-5 lakh per episode. In one week, they would upload at least two to three videos. With a subscription of Rs.199, HotHit soon had lakhs of subscribers. Every week new episodes would be uploaded. As the business flourished and the lockdown was lifted, Rowa started shooting the videos in bungalows and farmhouses.

With growing demand, the accused also allegedly started luring women with roles in web shows and forced them to shoot porn videos. Rowa also reportedly started renting out bungalows in Madh and Lonavala, where she would shoot the episodes.

To avoid any conflict, Rowa used to take consent of the actors on camera as well. The female actors would be paid around Rs 25,000, while males would be paid around Rs 10,000 to 15,000. The videos would still be shot on hi-res mobile phones and edited on laptops. There would be a minimum crew of five to six people working on these videos.

The Indian porn app boom during the pandemic.
The Indian porn app boom during the pandemic.
(Graphics: The Quint)

The publicity for these videos would be done on various social media platforms, including Instagram and Facebook. With minimal costs for shooting each episode, it turned out to be a highly profitable venture.

In just seven months Rowa reportedly earned at least Rs 30 crore and also reportedly shifted from a slum in Malwani to a plush 3-BHK (Bedroom Hall Kitchen) apartment in a residential tower in Goregaon. The police found Rs 36 lakh in the account of Rowa’s company after they arrested her.

Publicity for these adult videos are done on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
Publicity for these adult videos are done on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram.
(Photo: Apps advertised on Facebook, modified by The Quint)
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Who Is Yogesh Thakkur?

So far nine people have been arrested in the case including actor Gehna Vashisht. Like Rowa, Gehna too had started producing pornographic content for the mysterious Singapore-based Yash Thakkur.

“No one has seen Yash Thakkur and we suspect this may be a fake identity. He's been operating from Singapore and we have already alerted Interpol about him,” said senior inspector Kedar Pawar from the Property Cell of Mumbai Crime Branch.

A digital payment system put in place by Yash Thakkur through which he reportedly paid those who sent him the porn films. The payments were made by an application and the money trail is being traced.

Thakkur’s name also cropped up during the interrogation of Gehna and the other accused. According to the police, though Gehna and Rowa were both in touch of Thakkur, just like the other nine accused, none of them have ever met him. He was the main sponsor of such films and used to pay Rs. 4 lakh or more for every episode they would upload. With all the leads collected so far, the Mumbai Police hope to track down and arrest the elusive Thakkur soon.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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