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Kolkata's learned minds take on sellers of sex products

A libido-enhancing oil's growing admiration and other similar potency medicines are the reason behind the Kolkata intelligentsia's sour mornings

A famed exponent of Rabindra Sangeet in Kolkata has taken on an unlikely opponent: sellers of potency medicine.

oil
Pic/Tumpa Mondal

Seasoned singer Riddhi Bandhopadhyay has urged the “city’s sensitive residents” to protest against the “grotesque display of sex products across the state”.

For almost a year, Kolkata has been flooded with publicity for potency drugs. Mostly imported from China via the Siliguri market in north Bengal, the wares are re-packaged by domestic firms for sale across the state. Behind the most popular brand, Japani Tel and Capsule, comes Rocket Tel and Capsule, followed by Aagun (translates to ‘fire’).

Singer Riddhi Bandhopadhyay and poet Srijata Bandhopadhyay are behind an online campaign against potency drugs
Srijata Bandhopadhyay

The potency drug market is worth Rs 700 crore with an annual advertising budget of Rs 45 crore. One memorable campaign featured an elderly couple saying, Amrao anondo korlam (Even we had fun).

Singer Riddhi Bandhopadhyay and poet Srijata Bandhopadhyay are behind an online campaign against potency drugs
Singer Riddhi Bandhopadhyay and poet Srijata Bandhopadhyay are behind an online campaign against potency drugs

“Are we a sex-starved city? Every morning, I wake up to these full-page advertisements,” says a livid Bandhopadhyay.

Until early last year, Japani Tel was sold through direct marketing. Now, at least a few shops in every market seem to have acquired an agency for it. Right outside Writers Building, home to the state government, hawkers stack potency pills and oils.

While Bandhopadhyay doesn’t wish to take on the firms marketing these products, she says she is doing what a thinker can. Every day, the artiste and like-minded friends call up over 500 numbers to add muscle to an online petition they are circulating to put an end to potency drug sale and advertisement.

However, that is easier said than done.

Powerful campaign portals like www.change.org are unwilling to lend her movement space for fear of legal complications. The media is shying away from support because of the revenue the ads rake in. Bandhopadhyay calls the ads illegal because the The Drugs and Magic Remedies (Objectionable Advertisements) Acts, 1954, prohibits commercials for products claiming to have magical properties.

But she is happy that a few are slowly coming out in support. Like popular poet Srijata Bandhopadhyay and ad honcho Nabanil Pradhan. “The advertising will not stop unless the city makes an effort,” says Srijata Bandhopadhyay, who makes close to 100 calls daily to spread the word on the “sociological ills of potency drugs and their blatant advertising”.

They know their efforts are drops in the ocean when even Durga Puja organising committees are eager to gain sponsorship from these brands. “Imagine the embarrassment! Something is wrong somewhere and it needs to be checked,” says a furious Pradhan.

Prabir Basu, member of the West Bengal State Consumer Protection Council and Shweta Purandare of the Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) admit they have received complaints against products that “guarantee happy endings in bedrooms”.

Until someone acts, the ‘fire’ is going to spread.

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