Recently, veteran Bollywood choreographer Saroj Khan raked a controversy when she treads the untrodden path. The 69-year-old choreographer defended the practice of casting couch in the film industry, she said it’s done with consent and at least provides the livelihood.
Tradition has been going on for centuries and blaming just Bollywood is not fair. This is going on from ancient times, it is nothing new, she added.
Bollywood demanding sexual favors in exchange for work in the industry aka the “Casting Couch” has remained a topic not to be discussed. Hollywood has witnessed a moment with post-Harvey Weinstein outing of sexual harassers and the coming together of women and men to out sexual abusers via the #MeToo movement.
BBC News has released a short clip online saying Is Bollywood ready for #MeToo? Bollywood stars such as Radhika Apte, Usha Jadhav, Farhan Akhtar, and a struggling actress who wished to keep her identity anonymous, spoke up about the rampant sexual harassment in the film industry in BBC’s documentary: Bollywood’s dark secret.
“Some people are regarded as Gods. They are so powerful that people just don’t think that my voice is going to matter, or people think that if I speak, probably my career is going to get ruined. The way the women, and the men, of course, came together and decided that as a team we are not going to let this happen, I wish that could happen here,” said Radhika Apte in the video.
“He started telling me, for an actress you should be happy to have sex. He touched me wherever he wanted, he kissed me wherever he wanted, and I was shocked. He put his hand inside my clothes, so I asked him to stop and he said: ‘You know what, if you really want to work in this industry I don’t think you’ve got the right attitude’, says the struggling actress in the video clip.
The only male Bollywood actor in the video clip, Farhan Akhtar said, “It’s an unfortunate reality, hopefully, it will change, and it will change I guess with women speaking up, some amount of shaming happening will put some fear in people’s hearts.”
However, Bollywood remains tight-lipped on the casting couch practice, where men with power often ruin the careers of female cast and crew if they reject their offers. “Sleep with me if you want to do this part. I need a sexual relationship with you. I said no. He said if you are saying no, then I am not going to cast you in the film” said Usha Jadhav in the video.
“Things don’t happen in a one-sided way. I’ve heard of casting couch and don’t know how much of it is true and is not. I’m sure there is a certain amount of truth to it, but the fact is that when talented professionals work, there is no need for a casting couch. If there is no talent and people still want to make it into the business, there may be others who will try to take advantage of them,” said filmmaker Shyam Benegal at a panel discussion hosted by Rajya Sabha TV.
He also said that this type of sexual harassment is not limited to the glamour world but also happens in every professional sphere. He said it depends on how a person decides to use their power. He has never experienced it in his career and if he had, he would not have tolerated it, he added.
Veteran Bollywood actor and politician, Shatrughan Sinha said that sexual favors are demanded in and given in both the entertainment and the political world.
Recently, Dev D actor, Mahie Gill said “It happened with me a few times. I don’t even remember the name of the directors. I had to meet a director, so I wore a salwar and went, and he told me, ‘If you wear a suit and come, nobody is going to cast you in a film.’ Then, I met another director and he tells me, ‘I want to see how you look in a nightie’. So, you see, there are idiots all around.”
Meanwhile Bollywood actress and item girl, Rakhi Sawant recently opened up in support of Saroj Khan’s statement on casting couch in Bollywood. Rakhi admits to being a victim of the casting couch.
“When I was a struggler, yes I did face the casting couch. But it wasn’t as if every producer or director I approached was guilty. As in every walk of life, there is sexual corruption in the film industry also. As far as I was concerned, this was just in the beginning. But I had talent and I didn’t have to give in. I learned to say no. And I used my talent as an artist to make my way through life. I suggest all strugglers have patience and not surrender to the temptation of shortcut”, she said.
“Nobody rapes anyone in this film industry. It’s all consensual and voluntary. In this, I fully support Sarojji. At least she has spoken her mind and let the world know the truth. People in Bollywood don’t speak out the truth about the casting couch although it is happening right here in front of their eyes. They feel they are making their way up why should they bother with what’s happening around them? I really admire Sarojji for letting the world know the reality that they must face every day. Sarojji has seen what goes here. I totally agree with her”, Rakhi added.
While the actors opening up on the secrets we will have to wait and watch how far it takes the industry. Is casting couch still practiced? Will it ever stop? Do all the actresses face such sexual harassment for work? Do only women face this or are young male actors also the victims. Unless we have people from the film industry being honest and joining the fight to stop sexual harassment, nothing will change. Acceptance of the problem is the first step to change, but clearly, Bollywood believes in living in denial.