Casting couch in Bollywood: Reality or misuse?
The case filed against film producer Bhushan Kumar by a 30-year-old woman, accusing him of raping her under the pretext of giving her work, has again highlighted the topic of casting couch in Bollywood. A statement from T-Series, his production house, dismissed the allegations as “completely false and malicious” and stating that “It has been falsely alleged that the lady in question was sexually exploited between 2017 to 2020 on the pretext of giving her work.”
On Saturday, following a complaint by T-Series, Mumbai Police has registered an FIR against a local politician and a model for extortion.
But the incident brought back haunting memories of many previous instances where in female actors have called out the casting couch culture in Bollywood. It has also made many wonder what has changed in Bollywood after the #MeToo movement? Has it scared the perpetrators? Or, are women misusing their voice instead?
It is extremely horrendous. I know a lot of women who have been through a lot of embarrassing situations. I don’t think women in the film industry are that safe. Even though we women draw a boundary, people just don’t get it. If you are friendly, people think you are trying to befriend them in a different way, if you are kind and generous they see it in a different way. Men always misinterpret a woman’s psychology in the industry. I think they are so deprived sexually and deprived of attention that they behave this way and also because of greed and weird fantasies in their head. It is a so sadistic. I am always cautious. I never go alone for auditions or for work meetings. I always have my manager or someone from my team always accompanying me because my safety is in my hands.
There are people who emotionally manipulate girls. They sense how vulnerable a girl is and how much she needs a job. They gauge it all and then such an instance happens. There are many casting directors who have flirted with me and I took a call that I am not going to work with them in the future. Unfortunately, ladkiyaan iska shikaar ho jaati hai and they can’t even complaint because the other party is so powerful. In my case. I trusted an upcoming director and he won my confidence and he knew my weak points that I was from Kolkata so my Hindi was weak. He said he would help me, he became a friend and then he started misbehaving. It was a shocker. Now, I am not a very big actor but I am in a position where in if a director says that he wants to work with me, a producer or casting director cannot misbehave with me.
Casting couch prevails in the industry even today. Just pouncing on somebody is not what I call casting couch. Talking inappropriately, giving indirect hints, even these are a part of casting couch. Every girl in her career has gone through this. If someone says they haven’t faced it, they are lying. But then, I feel nobody can do anything forcibly. When someone says ‘this guy raped me’ I don’t understand that. It always is mutual, at least in the industry.
I am a feminist, and always been a voice for women. But during the time I have worked in the industry, I never had to go through casting couch. I understand jispe beeti hogi, but I don’t know whether it is right or wrong. We all have a sixth sense, so when you know that the other person’s intentions are not correct, you should go away from there. I understand that there would be some girls who would not know how to react. Par kya kar liya MeToo ne? Koi asar nahi hua, you just became headlines. You are getting followers on social media, someone says two words to you ‘what happened was wrong, we are there with you’… what’s next? Are they paying your bills? You think everyone is praising you so they will pay your bills? People used the #MeToo movement. A girl speaks up after two years that ‘this happened with me’. I have so many friends and family members working in various fields, they all say one should speak up whenever it happened.
There are good and bad people everywhere. I think #MeToo movement gave girls a right to speak and make it believe them. But I think that there are people who do use it not in the way that it is intended for. We are living in a different time and in the age of social media, so whenever such instances happen to any female actor, they must immediately share their story. There are also some women who wait for an “opportune” moment, that also happens. I have been fortunate enough to work with producers who have banners all around the set which read that this is a safe women work space and if any women have any issues they should come and report them. Good people make sure women who work with them are safe.
When there are some people talking about a cause, others start getting aware of a situation. Let’s say fi I was stealing money, I would become more cautious about it. Some people stop doing that, some do it in some other way. I feel that happens in India, people are more careful and make sure they are not going to say certain things or call to office. But the fact has not changed that in a country like India, many production houses don’t give you the job until you have some sort of equation or are friends with them. A lot of people say ‘let’s set a trap for a producer or a director’, they say ‘he said this’, when they are the ones who are messaging that person, or letting the other person lean on, and then say ‘Oh God he tried to rape me, touch me’. I am not sure if the movement has really affected things.
CASTING DIRECTORS SPEAK
Ram Rawat, been a part of Romil Teja Casting company for 10 years
I have been here for 10 years, nothing of this sort happened with us. However, some new casting directors have affairs with girls and say they will get them work, and then later have the MeToo allegations put on them. Such things are happening to a limit, and they are wrong. This is why these new casting people are scared ki kal kuchh ho na jaaye. And the new actors are scared pata nahi log aisa kar denge. But you only need acting skills. Post the MeToo movement there has been a change in the casting process. Due to Covid, there are also online auditions now.
A casting director, on the condition of anonymity
I know that casting couch exists but think more than casting directors, the producers and directors are people, who misuse their power to exploit female actors. Also, there are various people involved in the casting process, so pinning the blame on casting directors is not right.