The dark side of show business: Mumbai-based actor accused of cyber-stalking

The 20-year-old complainant alleged that the accused had posted lewd comments, calling the former a sex worker, on her Facebook, Instagram and Musical.ly profiles.
The accused abused the complainant on WhatsApp, saying she gets work because she does “all kinds of faltoogiri (useless work)”.(Bloomberg)
The accused abused the complainant on WhatsApp, saying she gets work because she does “all kinds of faltoogiri (useless work)”.(Bloomberg)
Updated on Sep 28, 2018 11:53 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Mumbai | ByJayprakash S Naidu and Kavita Awaasthi

The recent arrest of a 24-year-old actress for allegedly cyber-stalking a 20-year-old didn’t make headlines because neither of them are well-known in the industry, but contained in this case are hints of the toxic atmosphere within India’s booming television industry.

On September 25, a 24-year-old actress came to Aarey police station, accompanied by her husband, to surrender herself. For the past five days, the police had been looking for her after a 20-year-old actress had complained that the 24-year-old had been cyber-stalking her and making defamatory comments against her on social media. The police’s initial probe suggests the two friends turned foes while competing for a role in a TV serial. While the complainant’s decision to file charges against her friend is unusual, the rivalry between them points to the unhealthy competition within the industry. “Many actors, established and strugglers, bad-mouth their peers in order to get an upper hand,” said an industry insider on condition of anonymity. “Actors expose secrets of their co-stars to the media and their team members in an attempt to humiliate or embarrass their co-star. At auditions, newcomers try to pull down their competition and even tell vicious lies about their ‘friends’, just so that they don’t get the role.”

Mumbai has long been the city of dreams for show business aspirants, but the growth in the television entertainment industry in the past decade has meant more ‘strugglers’ flocking to the city because they hope to get their break in one of the many serials that are being churned out of Goregaon sound stages.

According to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2018-2022, India is projected as the tenth-largest market in terms of revenue in 2022. A 2018 report by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) found serialised dramas, or soaps, top the popularity ratings for rural audiences and rank second for urban audiences. The report also calculated that Hindi general entertainment channels reach 499 million people every week.

As the industry has grown, so has the competition. “My casting head meets thousands of aspirants every month, but only four or five make it in a year,” said producer-writer Vikas Gupta.

Actor Shashank Vyas of Balika Vadhu fame remembers giving 275 auditions in 18 months before he landed a small role in a serial as a newcomer. Last month, actor Krrip Kapur Suri thought he’d got a role in the show Udann, but on his way to set, he found that he had been replaced by actor Mohammad Nazim, of Saath Nibhana Saathiya fame.

With little by way of a support or a reliable mental health infrastructure, the reality check that show business delivers can push people towards unreasonable, abusive behaviour. In case of the recently-arrested actress, she has been charged with Sections 354 (D, stalking) and 67A (punishment for publishing or transmitting of material containing sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form) of the IT Act. “She was remanded to judicial custody on Thursday and later granted bail,” said a police officer.

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