Did Aman rape the girl: Salman
Among stalwarts who turned up to express solidarity with Aman Verma, Salman Khan was the most vociferous in his defence.
It took a tsunami to bring Bollywood stars together in such large numbers the last time around. And this time it was a wave of sting operations that has united the film fraternity.
Among stalwarts such as Govinda, Arbaaz Khan, director Sunil Darshan, Ravi Chopra, Pehlaj Nihalani, Raj Kanwar, David Dhawan and Vashu Bhagnani who converged at Mehboob Studio in suburban Bandra to express solidarity with their colleagues who have been caught on tape, it was 'bad boy' Salman Khan who was the most vociferous in his defence of TV host and actor Aman Verma.
"Aman is a 32-year-old guy and a bachelor. He has the right to enjoy life. Did he rape her, haath marora kya (twisted her arm), opened his shirt buttons or unzipped himself? What has he done? Why is this girl entering someone's bedroom at night? I've been in this industry for 15 years. I've never seen casting couch. What is this casting couch - will someone please tell me? It is very sad and disgusting. What he does in his private life is nobody's business. He's free to do whatever he wants with his life. What Shakti Kapoor does in his life or to his wife is his own business. Who are we to comment? What's the media trying to be - CIA?" he fumes.
"These artistes have families, children, wife and future generations to look out for. For god's sake we live in a country where a boy commits suicide for failing in board exams. What are we talking about here?" he adds.
Bollywood's enfant terrible even manages to see humour in the situation. "I don't understand why the girl approached actors like Shakti Kapoor and Aman Verma if she wanted a break in films. The first is known as a screen vilain. Given his celluloid image, I am sure any newcomer would find it unnerving to approach him. And then she also goes to Aman, who played a thankless son in Bagbaan. Jo apne baap ka nahi woh kiska ho sakta hai? (The one who doesn't stand by his father, who else will he stand by?) But on a more serious note, I want to ask why the girl didn't go to a producer or a director which is the right channel for any budding actor?" he says.
Salman launches a scathing attack on the reporter who acted as a decoy to 'trap' Aman and Shakti. "Nowadays my mother tells me beta so ja nahi to Ruchi aa jayegi (Go to sleep my boy or Ruchi will come for you"). Who is this Ruchi and what is her job? I'm curious to know. Do her parents know what she has been doing? I'm sure she must have told her parents that I've got a great job with a TV company where I am supposed to go and meet Shakti Kapoor and Aman Verma and ask them to help me become an actress. In return I will seduce and lure them, to which her parents must have given their blessings," he says.
Pehlaj Nihalani, expected to be next on the channel's hit list, is clearly defiant. "I challenge them to show what they can about me today itself. We are discussing a serious issue here. When any help is required from the film industry like earthquake relief, floods, etc we have always come forward and done more than our share. What happened between Shakti and this girl Ruchi is not the norm in the industry. From what I can make out, the channel borrowed a scene from a Hindi film - someone wrote the dialogues, someone acted and a team of people looked after the production. For the last 70 years those who found name, fame and respect in the industry have been belittled by this operation. Does the channel mean to say that people who slogged to achieve all this in so many years through their hard work, have got it by merely going through the casting couch?" he says.
According to the veteran filmmaker, the backlash will be felt most by newcomers. "The channel has closed all doors for newcomers. We have always been soft targets for extortion and blackmail. Now we will be doubly careful."
Nihalani also blames the Film Producers' Guild for taking a hasty decision to ban Shakti. "The Guild acted in haste and we at Cine and TV Artistes' Association do not agree with their decision. No one has the right to take away the means of livelihood from an artiste," he contends.
However the industry today is not a house divided, he is quick to add. "We are not divided. Perhaps the Guild took an emotional decision and needs to reconsider it," he says.
Actor-turned-MP Govinda, Shakti Kapoor's co-star in films like Raja Babu and Hero No 1, insists the channel has taken its crusade a bit too far. According to him: "Aman is popular among friends and colleagues in the industry. As one big family, we in the film industry view this episode as an attack on our family and its value systems. Often the media jokes about filmstars and makes light of them. But to instigate by inducing liquor is a far greater crime than to commit the actual crime and that's exactly what the channel did. They did it in Shakti's case and as a result the daughters and sisters of our industry were maligned (Shakti was heard casting aspersions on Aishwarya Rai, Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta on the spy cam tape)."
Govinda believes Aman was made a scapegoat. "Aman ke haath kaam karva diya gaya hai. (Aman fell prey to media tactics and landed in their trap)," he says.
Agrees Ravi Chopra. "I've known Aman for a long time and I stand by him. What is distressing is what the media is doing. It is disgusting and amounts to an intrusion of privacy. Aman is a private individual and has a right to conduct his life the way he wants to," he claims.
Meanwhile Raj Kanwar questions the nature of exploitation. Says he, "I've seen the kind of exploitation that's happening in every sphere of life. They can't change the whole industry by focusing on one Aman Verma. There are other things that the channel should concentrate upon if it really wants to change Indian society."
No matter what happens from here on, Aman's lawyer Dipesh Mehta says the damage has already been done. "My client is hurt and suffering when he sees that some person comes on TV and says that he should be hanged for what he has done. What is his fault? Did he kill or molest someone?
"This type of sting operations should not be allowed. We don't know who lured whom in this case. From what appears on TV it seems to be more a case of the girl luring Aman than the other way round. In fact Mr Nihalani claims that the same girl had been phoning him for work. You cannot lay a trap for somebody and then sit on judgement as to who is doing what. The newspaper says there could be an ex-superstar a similar kind of situation. We will probably have to wait and see what material they have got. It's like they are trying to go after people who are innocent, available and vulnerable. I am sure they must have got in touch with many others in the industry. It's a Pandora's Box," he admits.