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Industry must throw out its casting couch

Yesterday, this paper ran a front-page report about a television cameraman promising a young aspiring actress a break in television serials. His promises of course came on the condition that she have sex with him. The report then stated that he raped her several times. What is shocking is his blasé answer: that this is all part of Bollywood.

While this cameraman’s brazenness is one thing, it is a pointer to the stereotype that one has of Bollywood — that to get that break, many aspirants, men or women, have to sleep around. It is a stereotype that has a germ of truth in it. The casting couch is a part of Bollywood.

It is time to throw out the casting couch from this industry. While yesterday’s report was about a lesser-known name in the industry, there have been stories circulating about well-known names and celebrities who demand and in many cases, surely get, sexual favours in return for that coveted Bollywood break.

The film industry has put its best foot forward for several social causes, when actors speak, people listen. It is the reason why so many of them are roped in as ambassadors for different messages.

Maybe it is time for the industry to look within and decide to sweep clean its corridors of power. Let people be encouraged to file complaints if asked for sexual favours, and not to accept it when they are told casually that the ‘casting couch’ comes with the territory. Big names in the industry can put their weight behind a mechanism that aids newcomers to complain to the cops without fear of reprisal, and free of worries that nobody would give them a role.

Sexual humiliation is the hardest of all humiliations to forget. Those forced to accede to sexual demands for their breakmay become big names. Yet, they will be unable to forget the compromises they were forced to make, and carry the emotional baggage forever, in the form of self-hate, simmering rage, suppressed anger.

This humiliation is soul destroying, for it is an erosion of dignity. The casting couch need have no place in an industry which is getting increasingly corporate, more professional, unafraid in its films to explore taboo topics, tell the truth and tackle bolder, more urbane, closer-to-home themes. 

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