#1 Does the casting couch exist only in B or C grade Bollywood?
We spoke to an anonymous casting director of A-grade films who said: “Yes, it exists. But things are way better now than they were earlier.”
“As a casting director of a TV series and films, I run a clean ship. The directors and crew are instructed not to interact with the talent for any other reason than professional co-ordination.” He added that he had blacklisted a couple of actors he knows to be misogynistic in their personal lives.
He added, “I work for A-grade films and I haven’t come across any incident while casting actors. We look at serious actors with theatre experience; those with training from NSD or FTII are more likely not to fall into this trap. But I am sure it happens to people who work in B or C-grade films.”
Soon after this conversation, Phantom Films, the production company that released the two-part Gangs of Wasseypur and Netflix’s first Indian series Sacred Games, was dissolved. The company was co-founded by director Vikas Bahl, accused of sexual harassment. The other co-founders include directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, and producer Madhu Mantena.
#2 Can she say no and make it in the industry?
Earlier this year, Saroj Khan, a respected choreographer, commented on a casting-couch protest. She said: “Yeh ladki ke upar hai ki tum kya karna chahti ho. Tum uske haath mein nahi aana chahti, ho toh nahi aaogi. Tumhare paas art hai toh tum kyun bechoge apne aap ko? (It’s up to the woman to decide what she wants to do. If you don’t want to fall into the casting couch, you won’t. If you are talented, why would you sell yourself?)
But it’s not so simple. You can’t add 2 and 2 and always get 4. There are various factors to consider:
Constant normalisation of sexual abuse
Priya Malik, a feminist open-mic poet, sports anchor, and Bigg Boss contestant, told YourStory that “flippant” statements like these from established personalities are the problem. “This constant normalisation of rape and sexual abuse. I know of many newcomers who are so willing to undergo it because they assume it’s the norm. THAT is the problem,” she said.
They don’t hear the word no
A director stood up for her actress in a show against actor Alok Nath. She said Alok Nath would harass the lead actor of TV series Tara, and that one night he raped her in her own house after mixing her drinks. Tanushree Dutta, who ten years ago said no to actor Nana Patekar and director Vivek Agnihotri, while working on Horn OK Pleassss found the film industry didn’t listen to her – and worse – put her out of work.
Saying no is a privilege
There is a misconception that if someone was sexually assaulted, they wouldn’t be talking to or interacting with the perpetrator afterwards. But the University of Michigan Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Centre, on its website says, “There are many reasons why a survivor might maintain a relationship with someone who has assaulted them. The survivor may be unable to avoid the perpetrator if they live together, work together, are in class together, or have the same social circles. Or the survivor might still be defining and trying to understand what’s happened to them.”
In the Alok Nath case, the director said she had to write a show for the actor after the incident. “I needed the job and didn’t want to leave it as I needed the money,” she has said. During that time, Alok Nath asked to come to his house and violated her. She quit after that.
Speaking to ABP, Alok Nath dismissed her allegations, flippantly. #TanushreeDutta starts the #MeToo in India after Nana Patekar allegedly harassed her. ”
#3 What legal options do survivors have?
Supreme Court lawyer Devanshi Popat said: “Normally, an FIR has to be filed, an investigation is carried out, statements are recorded, and charges framed. Then comes the trial.” She adds that without an investigation, no man can be held guilty and punished merely over an unsubstantiated statement that has not gone through the process of law. “A Twitter or a media trial is not one of them.”
She advised all survivors to get all the information they can. “Time, place, the exact incident. Anything they can give to substantiate the allegation. An investigation will then take place,” she said.
Ashish Chavan, advocate with the Bar Council of Maharashtra and Goa, has appeared for sexual harassment cases from the survivors and accused, said the Tanushree Dutta case was a mixed bag. “There is support for her on social media, but she doesn’t have eyewitnesses, unlike her alleged perpetrators. The situation looks bleak, in the eyes of law. Plus, we don’t know if she is an Indian citizen. If she registers a case, probably under Section 354, the law will still work on evidence.”
What about the video that’s circulating? The one where cameraman Pawan Bharadwaj attacked Tanushree Dutta and her father’s car, refusing to let them pass. “That may not be considered evidence. Who is to tell that this video is legitimate?” Chavan said.
Last week, the Supreme Court was applauded for taking progressive, feminist decisions. Will this not trickle down to Tanushree’s case? “Let’s keep the ‘isms’ out of the legal battle. Law works on evidence and not emotions. We need to look at it dispassionately and see the evidence,” he said.
The way we see this case, it seems that the onus is on Tanushree Dutta to prove her stance. Why can’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t it be up to Nana Patekar to prove his innocence? “It can’t work like that. That means any woman can say she was molested and publicly shame the other person. It’s like opening the floodgates to character assassination.”
But wouldn’t the number of false cases outweigh the genuine ones?
“The harsh reality is that fraudulent cases are filed every day. This brings down the credibility of unsubstantiated statements knowingly or unknowingly,” Devanshi said.
#4 Why don’t top actresses speak out?
Why aren’t top actresses speaking out, be it on the casting couch or similar gender-based harassment in Bollywood?
“Women in Hollywood have greater financial independence and freedom of speech, maybe more than Bollywood actresses who are used to male actors leading the narrative,” says Janice Sequeira, TV show anchor who has backed Tanushree’s allegations. “One cannot imagine how high the stakes are for these actresses if they decide to speak out. We, the media industry, need to make them feel empowered. Probably then a #MeToo will start from the top of the industry.”
The survivor in the Vikas Bahl case was assaulted during the shooting of Kangana Ranaut’s film Queen. The lead actress not only stepped in but also narrated her own incidents with the accused. Kalki Koechlin, Tisca Chopra, Rakhi Sawant, and Maushami Udeshi have faced and called out casting couch incidents in Bollywood. Sonam Kapoor has said that she believes the survivor of the alleged harassment and Tanushree Dutta.
#5. Do men get propositioned and abused as well?
A film and theatre actor in Mumbai talks to us on conditions of anonymity. “Most actors and actresses are propositioned when they enter the film industry. When it comes to the casting couch, female directors are nicer to male models and vice versa. There is sexism, definitely. As a male actor, I have been propositioned twice. At times, you cut ties with the person or they stop sending you audition links.”
Actors Ranveer Singh and Ayushmaan Khurana have spoken about the existence of the casting couch and said they refused when asked for sexual favours during their struggling days.
#6 Why it’s important to speak up and support women who are speaking up
Janice Sequeira tweeted to corroborate Tanushree Dutta’s story, stating that she was there. “Some incidents that take place even a decade ago remain fresh in your memory. What happened with #TanushreeDutta on the sets of Horn OK Pleassss is one such incident. #NanaPatekar.”
She told YourStory the reason why she realised that she had to speak up for Tanushree. “I saw interviews the day before and it was a rude shock. Whatever she was saying added parts to the puzzle I had seen as a cub reporter in 2008. And then, there were the trolls who said she was trying to make it back to Bollywood. How could she be harassed in a set that had hundreds of people? If we don’t believe the survivor’s story, we are allowing and conditioning perpetrators to get away. We have to show that boss, you can’t get away.”
“It’s not just about the industry or women. Creating empathy with the perpetrator and a derogatory attitude towards the survivor perpetuates a vicious cycle of keeping silent,” Priya Malik said.
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