It’s Not Just Hollywood — There Are Harvey Weinsteins All Over Bollywood Too
Since last week, as the New York Times and New Yorker exposés were released, we have been inundated with grotesque tales of mighty Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who allegedly sexually harassed, assaulted and raped numerous women, including leading actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Gywneth Paltrow.
This isn’t just a Hollywood problem. The aroma of perversion clings to Bollywood as well. Stories of manipulative bullying and predatory behavior are widespread, and many tended to remain unaired, confined to hushed conversations and gossip blogs. While many actresses might not think it in their best interests to reveal what goes on behind a casting director’s doors, in recent years, a few have opened up about their “casting couch” experiences.
In 2015, Kalki Koechlin, hailed as crossover cinema’s hottest female icon, openly admitted that she confronted such situations, but always found the courage to say no. “I must say, of course, it exists. It did try and entangle me in its grip but I am slippery, I always managed to get out of it. The minute I felt uncomfortable, I walked away!”
Last year, at a storytelling session of Kommune India, Taare Zameen Par actress Tisca Chopra narrated her experience with an influential but “reptile-like” director, laying bare the ugly truth of the casting couch in Bollywood.
Watch Chopra speaking about the incident here:
The persistent belief in our culture that what’s really occurring is a fair exchange – sex for a role – is even more terrifying. In February, Tamil actress Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, who revealed unwanted sexual overtures from the programming head of a leading TV channel, said: “A common reaction from people, both in the industry and outside when they hear things like this is to say, ‘[the] film industry is like this’. [But] I didn’t come to the industry to be treated like a piece of meat,” she said.
Another addition to the list of actresses having admitted to being propositioned is Radhike Apte. “Once I got a call and they said they’re doing this film in Bollywood and I want you to have a meeting with them. But would you be okay sleeping with that person? And I laughed, and I said no I’m not. Ask him to go to hell,” she said in an interview with Bollywoodlife.com.
In 2011, Payal Rohatgi accused director Dibakar Banerjee of making an indecent proposal while casting her for Shanghai. However, trading of allegations and counter-allegations between Rohatgi and Banerjee, who refuted it, abruptly ran out of steam.
Even actors such as Ranveer Singh and Ayushmann Khurrana have admitted to the existence of casting couch culture. In an interview with NDTV, Singh said: “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.”
Bollywood is a culture that runs on fear. Although many have recently come out to talk about their experiences with casting couch behavior, free of the kind of sexism and shaming that often accompanied such stories back in the early days of the movie business, they have refused to name the abuser because of fears of what would happen if they did.
Ironically, director Madhur Bhandarkar, who is known to reveal darker sides of Bollywood in his films such as Fashion and Page 3, was accused of rape by actress Preeti Jain. The actress alleged that Bhandarkar raped her 16 times between 1999 and 2004, with a promise to cast her in his films. Bhandarkar, who was acquitted of the charges after a long-running case, said: “It’s embedded in every field, not just the film industry. Our industry is talked about because it’s in the limelight.”
No doubt, the problem of sexual harassment goes well beyond Bollywood. Even though school officials and human resource administrators are routinely required to teach people what sexual harassment entails, this behavior persists. Many feel humiliated to speak out, and when they do lodge complaints, they often win settlements that require their silence, so that the harasser is not held accountable.
But surely, if one actress can nail a serial offender in the face of a vast machine set up to silence them, many Harvey Weinsteins of Bollywood can be stopped from abusing their positions in future.