Bollywood has always been the inspiration behind India’s most lurid imaginations. The glamour, beauty and progressiveness that the industry is steeped in make it easy fodder for gossip rags and online portals to speculate about the goings-on behind the closed doors of India’s biggest stars. After all, while there are huge stars down South, you rarely see them post images on social media about raging parties. While many incidents of prostitution and drug racketeering have popped up in the Southern film industries of late, the fact remains that our collective consciousness lies firmly on Bollywood.
And this is where the infamous ‘casting couch’ comes in.
You’ve seen it happening in movies where seedy, potbellied directors with hairy chests look at a nubile maiden and say something along the lines of “kuch paane ke liye, kuch dena parta hai” or “compromise toh sab karte hai”.
What they are referring to is the casting couch – the phenomenon of asking for sexual favours in return for roles in films, web series or jobs in campaigns. Many go willingly down this path and there’s no denying that. Any Bollywood insider will tell you that people with no talent offer their muscular bodies via Instagram DMs, hoping some famous director or artiste will respond. However, this entire practise is abhorrent and should not be sensationalised the way it is now. It should be dragged through the mud and the culprits held behind bars.
Numerous actors have spoken out about the casting couch so we know that it is not some mythical fantasy – it is very much real. Popular TV actress Prachi Desai who rose to fame with her show, Kasam Se, had spoken about being asked for sexual favours in return of being cast in a “big film”. “I think very direct propositions were made to get cast in a certain film, a big film, but I have outright said no. Even after that director has called me, after saying no, I have still said that I am not interested in your film,” she had told Bollywood Bubble in an interview.
Actress Ankita Lokhande faced the same issue when she auditioned for a role in a South Indian film. She was asked to “compromise”. “I think your producer wants a girl to sleep with, not a very talented girl to work with,” she had told the offending person at the time. She went on to say that the person had apologised but she was adamant that she’ll not do the film. Unable to directly confront this problem for fear of losing out on a career, people in the industry ensure that they protect each other. When Tisca Chopra got a call from a famous producer-director, her friends told her: “But you know, agreeing to do a film with him is like agreeing to be his pet squeeze for the duration of the shoot. Are you okay with that?” Thanks to her friends, Chopra did not go ahead with this offer.
And, if you thought that only women face this issue in the film industry, you’re mistaken. The men are equally hurt by these propositions. Actor Ayushmann Khurrana was asked to show his penis by a casting director. “A casting director had told me, ‘I’ll give you the lead role if you showed me your tool.’ I told him I’m straight and I politely refused his offer,” he had said in an interview.
As we mentioned earlier, this concept of the casting couch goes both ways. There have definitely been incidents where sexual favours have been offered by aspiring actors and this has been proved by statements made by actor Shatrughan Sinha. Sinha had said that this “you please me, I’ll please you” situation has been happening since time immemorial. Actors like Alia Bhatt, Kangana Ranaut and Ranbir Kapoor have revealed that they’ve not faced the casting couch.
“Fortunately, I never had to go through the casting couch. Honestly, I feel somebody has to be really dumb to think that they’d get a role for sleeping around. And I have never been so dumb — not even at the age of 17 when I started my career. People should use their common sense. It’s stupid if you actually believe someone who tells you that he or she is giving you a role only if you please him or her. If the casting couch route was so easy, then all the women from the red light area would have been superstars today,” Ranaut had said, according to The Times of India.
“Yes, casting couch does exist in the industry. I’ve experienced it during my struggling days. But it depends on how you tackle the situation. I chose to decline politely,” ace actor Ranveer Singh had also said.
There are also many who feel irked that Bollywood is portrayed as this big, bad industry when incidents of the casting couch happen in every field and industry. “The casting couch exists in every industry. People want to know more about films, so it gets publicized. Unfortunately, it exists and it’s only practical and sensible to accept it. If you are willing to take shortcuts, it’s your call,” actor Jackky Bhagnani had said in an interview.
Going by these statements made by the celebrities themselves, it is evident that the casting couch does exist but it is also evident that it goes both ways, at times, and that this process takes place in every industry.