Legendary Bollywood choreographer Saroj Khan stirred up quite a controversy when she justified casting couch trading sexual favors for film assignments — in Bollywood — earlier this week. Her comment stating that the industry does not rape and abandon women but provides livelihood as well brought much outrage in the social media while the Bollywood itself found her comments either insensitive or believed they were misinterpreted. Reports suggest that BBC has decided to air a documentary on what the choreographer says is an age-old issue. A Mid-Day report claimed that actors like Radhika Apte, Usha Jadhav among others who have shared their experiences in the documentary.
The documentary will be called, Bollywood’s Dark Secret and BBC have decided to publicize it with an excerpt that reads, “Bollywood, unlike, Hollywood hasn’t had a public Metro moment. But, as Rajini Vaidyanathan discovers, Indian actors and actresses are not immune to sexual abuse and harassment. Radhika is quoted by BBC as saying in the documentary, “ 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.” Usha, on the other hand, narrated her own experience where she was asked to sleep with perhaps a producer or a filmmaker to get work.
The documentary also comprises the chilling experiences of an aspiring actress who said that she was molested by a man who advised her to “be happy to have sex as and, when possible, and embrace your sexuality” if she really wants to work in this industry. She went on to say “He touched me wherever he wanted, he kissed me wherever he wanted and I was shocked.”
Bollywood has mostly been tight-lipped about sexual harassment with only a handful of actors like Richa Chadda and Swara Bhaskar accepting that they have faced casting couch, without explicitly naming anyone. According to Khan casting couch never happens without a woman’s approval. In fact, the National Award-winning veteran choreographer blamed the women only and said that casting couch was not so recent. She said this in response to a question asked by a journalist on Telegu actor Sri Reddy stripping in protest against the casting couch culture in the Telegu film industry.
“This has been happening since time immemorial. Somebody or the other tries to get cozy with every girl. Even people in the government do it. Why are you after the film industry? At least the industry provides employment. After all, it isn’t as if you are raped and abandoned. (Yeh chalaaa raha hai baba aadam ke zamaane se. Har ladki ke upar koi na koi haath saaf karne ki koshish karta hai. Government ke log bhi karte hain. Tum film industry ke peeche kyun pade ho? Woh kam se kam roti toh deti hai. Rape karke chhod toh nahi deti),” Khan is heard as saying in the video. She later apologised for her comments.
Sri Reddy, whose protest triggered widespread debate on exploitation of women in the entertainment industry, reacted to her statement by saying that she has lost respect for Khan while Bollywood was yet to react to the latter’s comments. Sri Reddy said to 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”.
Richa Chadda told ANI, “I think people are making mountain of molehill. There’s narrative that people in Bollywood are the worst and indulge in malpractices which isn’t the case. She meant to say it takes place in all industries, why is Bollywood being singled out?”
Some other actors who don’t wish to be named have also revealed in the BBC documentary that will be aired on Saturday afternoon, April 28. With a 20 minutes runtime, the documentary will be aired on BBC World News.
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