The infamous casting couch reared its ugly head once again after South actress Varalaxmi Sarath Kumar opened up about it on social media. Celebrities share their horrifying experiences with BT...
BOMBAY TIMES (February 23, 2017)

Just when the alleged molestation of a South actress opened a can of worms on the way women in showbiz are often treated disrespectfully, another actress, Varalaxmi Sarath Kumar found herself being propositioned by the programming head of a television chan nel last Saturday. BT spoke to a spectrum of people from the industry about the issue, which is known, but always brushed under the carpet.

'It's heartbreaking when a person you idolise comes up with an indecent proposal'
“The industry might seem glossy, but it is ugly from with in. Casting couch is a harsh reality. On the face of it, they talk about talent, craft and art, but who really wants talented people here? During my struggling days, I used to get depressed when I went through this. Even today, I don't know how to get work. It's a struggle every day. It's heartbreaking when a person you look up to or idolise comes up with such indecent proposals.“
- Sana Khaan, Actress

'I've heard horror stories even in arty circuit'
I've been lucky to have worked with international filmmakers and National Award winning directors, who are sincere about their work. I never worked in a commercial set-up per se so I never encountered this situation directly. But, indirectly, there is a lot of pressure. I've overheard people saying, 'Yeh toh outdoor mein degi nahi toh isko leke kya fayda? Yeh toh shoot ke baad apne room mein jaake so jayegi.' Way back, a TV actor-producer called me up and said he wants to meet. I met him assuming it was to discuss our show. He said, “You have to romance me onscreen, so off screen, chemistry toh badhani padegi.“ I walked out and I've never returned his calls. You have to take a stand. I've heard horror stories even in the arty circuit.
- Tannishtha Chatterjee, Actress

'If you do it once, you will be expected to do it again'
Sadly, casting couch exists but you don't have to fall in that trap to have a career. I don't mean to be judgemental but once you take that path, you have to live with the choice. I believe that you can survive in the film industry without succumbing to it. You just need to be patient. I am a living testament of that. It happened to me once, this filmmaker made a pass at me. I walked out and never saw him again. The star kids how ever, are much protect ed as almost everyone in the industry is their uncle, mama or chacha. As far as dealing with these creeps is concerned, they should be unmasked, shamed and boycotted if this needs to stop.
- Richa Chadha, Actress

'It's difficult to eliminate a one-to one meeting in any profession'
I've heard horror stories about casting couches. I know and I can vouch for the fact that it exists though I have neither experienced it first hand. It's an open secret. Sexual favours are asked from both genders and in every walk of life. It's an individualistic thing whether you want to do that or not, and whether you are in a position to say no. It's a debatable issue. It's very difficult in any profession to eliminate a one-to-one meeting, right? So what happens between two people also cannot be completely sanitised in that sense. At large we may not have a solution to this problem, but we can first set our priorities right at an individual level. That alone will make a huge difference.
- Abhinay Deo, Director

'People don't speak out as it could affect their career'
Somehow, it has never happened to me. My father, and now that I am married, my husband always accompany me whenever I go for a recording or a tour. But yes, I have heard from my peers that the casting couch does exist. Sometimes, people are too scared to talk about it lest it jeopardises their career. But it does happen.
- Harshdeep Kaur, Singer

'It's a business proposal bereft of love'
It's a murky space as we're dealing with good looking people who are ambitious. What is a casting couch? It's a business proposal bereft of any love or emotion. One is asked to sleep and get the assignment. The filmmakers I have assisted have never done this. There are people who do it and it's wrong. But there's another side to it. I don't think sleeping around is a recipe for success. We can't do anything about this menace where boys and girls are exploited. There's a flip side here also. I've heard of good-looking youngsters who have used their charm cards to make their way ahead. What do you do about that? It's difficult to snip this area out of any industry today. I can just say between a man and a woman, it's love that has become a rarity .
- Vikram Bhatt, Director-writer

'Ex-girlfriend was thrown out of a film for resisting'
I've personally never been through anything as all my work is taken care by my manager.But my ex-girl-friend did. She was told to go to Lonavala over the week end for a 'script reading' with a certain director, which she politely refused. She was thrown out of the film due to reasons best known to the team.
- Sahil Salathia, TV actor

'It's a bigger problem for boys today'
“Some actors approach me and give indirect hints, but I reject them. They should have faith that there is new breed of film makers who prefer going the clean way. I think the casting couch is a bigger problem for boys today.
- Ravindra Gautam, TV producer

'Stories of exploitation in are more spoken about the glamour industry'
There are grey areas that exist, not just in the glamour business but in every other business. Even cops complain about powerful pervert seniors who're mentally sick to ask sexual favours when one merits a promotion or a pay hike. Exploitation stories are more spoken about in glamour industry for obvious reasons. That's why after so many years in the business, I decided to take the digital route for casting and streamlining the process of scouting talent in numerous departments like art direction, direction, production...the works. There are hundreds of illegitimate casting agents, who by flashing photos with actors dupe youngsters. They promise them work for money, sexual favours or both. Those who fall prey to it are the ones who can't figure another route to pursue their dreams. We first need to educate them about the stream of work they plan to jump into. We have to stop them from shooting wrong or suggestive portfolios that give a wrong impression. If we can success fully do that, stories of casting couches will automatically reduce.
- Suniel Shetty, Actor who runs a digital casting agency

'I've been in uncomfortable situations'
I've heard from a couple of my model friends about how they've been propositioned for work. I've been in a couple of uncomfortable situations where I felt the need to leave a meeting. I leave if I feel that the statements being made aren't related to the film that is being narrated to me, or the project that I am discussing.
­ - Amyra Dastur, Actress

'I faced it seven years ago'
“I have found myself in this sticky situation seven years ago. A coordinator asked me how I would respond in three situations: 'Will I work smart or hard?', 'How would I react if I was propositioned by an older woman?', and 'What would happen if a man touched me?'. He got a little touchy feely with me while asking the last question. I was shocked and furious. He told me of actors who relented and are successful today.“
- Karan Tacker, TV actor

'No one can guarantee a role in exchange of favours'
A few actresses have shared their horror stories with me. My advice to them was that predators prey on the weak and vulnerable. Besides, filmmaking is an expensive affair and involves many heads to confirm the cast. No one can guarantee you a role in exchange of favours. Unless you suit the part and are a good actor, nobody will give the role to you. Period.
- Shahid Hassan, Casting director

Legal point-of-view
Those subjected to casting couch should come forward and say what has happened so the accused can be exposed and booked and it can be deterrent for others. Often, women don't come forward as they feel it's a lost battle as they are bringing up charge that's so big and that the accused may get away as he is powerful. Currently, the law will take cognizance only with evidence. Here everything happens in the closed four walls of an office ­ so no one knows the allurement, offer made etc. It's tougher because what happens under such circumstances may not be evidence, though there is scope for presumption, which also can't be ignored. It should be a collective effort by the film industry to ensure this does not happen. There must also be a body to support these victims as in most cases, it's a lonely battle for them as they are up against big names.
- Kranti Sathe, Lawyer