Dhak-Dhak choreographer Saroj Khan started a fresh debate on casting couch when she tried to justify this 'ritual' of trading sexual favours for film assignments in the Indian film industry. She said the industry does not just "rape and abandon women but also provides a livelihood." She called it an "age-old issue."
Social media and the industry itself did not take the comment well. Everyone found her comment ignorant and insensitive.
BBC has been planning and now, is all set to air a documentary on casting couch.
As per a Mid-Day report, amongst many others actors, Radhika Apte and Usha Jadhav have also spoken about their casting couch experiences in the industry in this documentary.
BBC is promoting Bollywood's Dark Secret, the documentary with this excerpt, "Bollywood unlike Hollywood hasn’t had a public MeToo moment. But, as Rajini Vaidyanathan discovers, actors and actresses working in the Indian film industry are not immune to sexual abuse and harassment."
Image Source: Radhika Apte On Instagram
In this BBC documentary, the report suggests that Radhika Apte has 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 way the women, and the men, of course, came together and decided that as a team we are not going to let this happen, I wish that could happen here."
Image Source: Gethu Cinema
Usha Jadhav has revealed her personal experience where she was asked to sleep with a producer or a director to get work. Although the documentary has a lot more, it also includes the petrifying testimonial of an aspiring actress who talked about her being molested by a man who advised her to be "happy to have sex as and when possible, and embrace your sexuality" if she wanted to work in the industry. She also said, "He touched me wherever he wanted, he kissed me wherever he wanted and I was shocked."
However, Bollywood has been quiet about sexual harassment cases within the industry apart from a few actors such as Richa Chadha and Swara Bhaskar speaking up. If we go back to Saroj Khan's she believes it never happens without a woman’s consent, reiterating the fact that it's a woman's choice. She said this while responding to a question from a journalist on Telugu actor Sri Reddy stripping in protest against the casting couch culture.
Saroj Khan said, “Ek baat bataun, ye to chala aa raha hai baba aadam ke zamane se, abhi se thode hi. Har ladki ke upar koi na koi hath saaf karne ki koshish karta hai. Government karti hai, government ke log karte hai to film industry ke piche kyun padhe ho? Wo to roti thodi deti hai, rape karke chhod to nahi deti hai. Wo mat bolo, wo ladki ke upar hai ke tum kya karna chahte ho. Tum uske hath me nahi aana chahte ho to nahi aaoge. Tumhare paas art hai to tum kyun apne aap ko bechoge. Film industry ka naam nahi lena, wo humara mayi-baap hai.” (Should I say something? This has been going on from 'Baba Adam's' times, it is not new. Someone or the other always try to take advantage of a girl. The government does it too, then why are we only blaming the film industry? It provides livelihood at least, does not rape and leave you. It is up to the girl, what she wants to do. If you don't want to fall into wrong hands, you won't. If you have art, why would you sell yourself? Don't take the film industry's name, it is everything to us.) However, she later apologised for her comments.
Image Source: Richa Chadha on Instagram
Apart from Richa Chadha, we didn't see any reactions from Bollywood on Saroj Khan's remark. Richa Chadha told ANI, "I think people are making mountain of molehill. There’s narrative that people in Bollywood are the worst & indulge in malpractices which isn’t the case. She meant to say it takes place in all industries, why is Bollywood being singled out?" But Sri Reddy, whose protest triggered widespread debate on exploitation of women in the entertainment industry, said she had lost "respect" for the choreographer. She told ANI, "Saroj Khan madam, you are an elder, so I should respect you. But I have lost respect for you because what kind of a tradition are you encouraging? Also, being an elder, you have to show the (right) path to actresses. How can you say that we have to be like that. It is giving wrong indication that you have to be a slave to heroes, producers."
At the Veere Di Wedding trailer launch, Sonam Kapoor promised to talk about casting couch issue later but refused to comment on it at that moment.
At Sanju trailer launch as well, Ranbir commented that he hasn't faced casting couch.
Many unnamed actors have opened up in the BBC documentary. It will be aired on Saturday afternoon, April 28. It has a runtime of 20 minutes and will be shown on BBC World News.
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