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Bollywood’s Dark Secret: Voices that will uncover harassment in the industry

Dark Secret
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Two of the Bollywood actresses Radhika Apte and Usha Jadhav have recounted their stories of harassment referred to as ‘casting couch’ in Bollywood. BBC Worldwide Network is soon to air a documentary that will uncover some of the daunting stories of harassment in the world’s second-most popular film industry.

The actresses in their interview revealed they were encouraged to trade sexual favors with a role in the movie. The accounts of actresses certainly don’t match with the senior choreographer Saroj Khan’s version on ‘casting couch’. Saroj Khan in her controversial statement justified the trend of ‘the casting couch’ but actresses in their account referred it as one form of sexual harassment.

“At least the film industry provides work and doesn’t rape and abandon you.”

National award-winning actress Usha Jadhav said, “here’s what happened when a “powerful man” in the entertainment industry asked for “something in return” for a role. “I said something along the lines of, ‘What? I don’t have money’. He said, ‘No, no, no, no. It’s not about money, it’s about you sleeping with, maybe it can be a producer, maybe it can be a director, it can be both too,” Usha Jadhav said in the documentary.

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Radhika Apte too said, “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 documentary also interviewed an aspiring actress saying a casting agent treated her indecently. Upon refusal, she said the agent called her attitude inappropriate to succeed in the film industry.

“He started telling me that for an actress, you should be happy to have sex as and when possible, and embrace your sexuality,”

Bollywood recently went into the frenzy when choreographer Saroj Khan attempted to legalize trading off sexual favors with roles in the movie. She was harshly criticized after which she issued an apology. Veteran actor Shatrughan Sinha backed Saroj Khan’s claims and said its an old practice in the industry and hence there is nothing to fret about

“Neither Saroj Khan nor Renuka Chowdhary is wrong. Sexual favors are demanded and given in both the entertainment world and in politics. It’s an old and time-tested way of getting ahead in life. ‘You please me I’ll please you’. This has been happening since time immemorial. What is there to get so upset about,” Sinha said.

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“Saroj Khan’s contribution to choreography and to shaping the careers of Rekha, Madhuri Dixit, and the late much-missed Sridevi, was invaluable. Saroj Khan is a legend in her own right. She often speaks from her heart and lets emotional correctness rule over political correctness. If she said that girls have to compromise sexually in Bollywood, she must be aware of what goes on.”

“I completely agree with both Saroj and Renuka. I know the kind of compromises girls have to make to get into films. Perhaps Sarojji has herself gone through her own pain and humiliation. As for politics, I don’t know what we can call the casting couch in politics, maybe the casting-vote couch. Of course the young aspiring brigade is known to offer sexual favors, and, of course, the senior brigade is known to accept”.

“I am not saying it is right. I would never be part of such a compromise. But we cannot shut our eyes to the reality around us. Don’t condemn Sarojji for speaking the truth. Condemn those who create a situation where girls and boys feel they have to compromise to get ahead in life.”

Sinha said becoming a part of ‘casting couch’ is a matter of personal choice and no one is forcing a girl or boy to compromise on their sexuality.

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“What happens on the couch or wherever two people come together, is a matter of personal choice. No one is forcing any girl or boy to lie down on the couch. You have something to give and you are offering it to someone who is interested. Where is the coercion or compulsion?”

The actresses despite opening up are still fearful of naming their harassers in the documentary. Bollywood is still shielded from the campaigns of sexual harassment that has already stormed Hollywood and Lollywood. Is it more because of the deliberate silence of the victims? But how long will this silence continue?

The accounts of actresses are just the tip of the iceberg. Is Bollywood really that clean or the moguls are powerful enough to deter the victims from speaking up. Or perhaps casting ‘couch’ is a mutual covert consensual practice?


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