An open letter to women fighting the casting couch battle

Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Aug 5:


Bravo! You are the courageous lot that camera-conscious-cannot-take-a-selfie novices are in awe of. People, who do not know how to pout or pose, cannot admire you enough for having the confidence of flaunting your beauty with such poise and panache. You have chosen the tough road of being in the glamour industry, knowing that it’s a slippery slope and that makes you no less brave than anyone else. Yes, you are risk-takers and go-getters. More than oomph, you ooze confidence. And I give it to you for that.


Among this lights, camera, action what is this casting couch business all about? I mean the last phrase I heard along the same lines was couch potato. And trust me, nothing is glamorous about that.

The media had a field day, no, field month, I’d say with the news of casting couch and Ollywood. People who had no interest in Odia news channels glued themselves to the idiot box with cups of chai and battled forth theories of who must have been wronged and who must not be innocent. The race for TRPs closed in and the audience enjoyed every second of it. The professional and personal lives of both the plaintiff and the complainant came under spotlight. Words and tempers flew; no holds barred.

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I respect the women in the industry who came out in the open with their stories of exploitation and dared to point fingers at the authorities who were once left unquestioned.  It is not easy at all to be in confrontation mode. And for every one of them, there are many more from a varied financial and social background who have not been able to muster the courage to do so. For every woman who decided to speak, there are many more that have chosen silence. You coming out with your tales are just a reflection of what the tip of the iceberg looks like.

It is understood that, a favour is a two-way street. You give and you take. No one gives a “favour” with discounts. There is no such thing as free lunch in life. And everything has a price. That subtle smile, lingering gaze and ignorant touch all had a meaning.

A leading tabloid in the country conducted a sting operation where its reporters posed as aspiring actors and models and casting agents in the first meeting itself begun talking about compromises and perils of working in the glam world. In fact, a superstar like Ranveer Singh was also propositioned for “favours” during his struggle days. So was singer Sonu Nigam. Similarly, in another sensational sting operation of a national news channels tellly actor Aman Verma and Bollywood baddie Shakti Kapoor were caught on camera making advances at a planted actor. It might sound bizarre, but male casting couch is as real as female casting couch.

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And today when you have decided to come out in the open, taking names and expressing what transpired between you and XYZ months ago, do not be scared of name-calling and accusations, no matter how illogical and ludicrous they might sound. I can imagine the frustration when your arguments will be negated and you will be castigated for not talking about this issue when it happened in real time. And skeletons from your closet, however irrelevant will be dug and ghosts of the past may come calling.

It was not your fault, ladies that you did not speak up then and are choosing to do so now. It is your story to tell and you have the right to choose the time and the audience for it. You have decided to reveal intimate details and that is never easy or convenient. Hats off, to you for that. Yes, casting couch is one of the worst-kept secrets of the glamour industry (Bollywood and Hollywood included) and you deciding to admit that it happens is praise-worthy.

Indian Penal Code has no distinct section for casting couch allegations. An accused is generally booked under Section 506 (criminal intimidation) and Section 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman). Further charges are levied if the victim has been sexually harassed (Section 354-sexual harassment and punishment for sexual harassment), physically abused, is an underage (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012) or a member of the Scheduled Caste/ Scheduled Tribe (The SC And The ST (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989).

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When a complaint is registered with the police and the case goes to court, it becomes serious business. When the complainant is tried, you as a plaintiff will be too. You too, will be made to squirm under the heat of assumptions. Uncomfortable and condemning questions you will be asked and that can be traumatic.

But a word of caution: know that the battle you are on the verge of fighting will be long drawn and the end to it all might not lead anywhere. Case in point: a starlet accusing ace film-maker Madhur Bhandarkar of raping her for a long time in lieu of a role in his film and the deal not materializing. After years of court sessions, the Supreme Court quashed the rape charge against Bhandarkar and ruled in his favour.

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I might sound a little anti-feminist at this point, but men can be wronged too. The very public tussle between Ollywood produce Rajesh Pati and actor Upsana Mohanty will vouch for that. The producer sought the return of capital from the actor who allegedly threatened him with casting couch charges! While he is parading videos of their cozy moments  together and snapshots of special occasions with her family and admitting to a relationship, she is defiantly stern that there was nothing more than a professional relationship from her side and though he was making advances, she was professionally ignoring them.

Double-edged sword? Definitely.

However, now is the time to speak up. Now is the time when you put your foot down. Now is the time, ladies that you don’t feel abstained by the shackles of societal norms because the world outside is just so not fair. And this malaise is just not confined to glamour industry; it happens in corporates, in politics and in big cities and small towns, too. And like South African social activist Desmond Tutu put it, “If you are neutral in situations of  injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”


Yours truly

The girl next door



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