By Sushil Kutty
Pretty girl in Delhi tells mom and pop and little adorable brother at dinner that her bags are packed and first shot of dawn she will be up and gone to Bollywood! Mom – who’s always warning daughter to take care stepping outdoor because there are, ‘you know baby, these Delhi daredevils, nasty fellows with dirty paws, who’ll maul you and rape you’ – gives pretty girl tips on the casting couch and pop in between bites on the dripping with masala chicken-leg nods his shaggy head like the lion in the documentary ‘Brothers in Blood, Lions of Sabi Land.’
Next day, long before little brother is up and about and long after mom has bid a pleasant goodbye to pretty girl, the scene shifts to Bollywood and our aspiring actor, on her way to become struggling actor, pulls out her smartphone and has one last look at the video of choreographer Saroj Khan’s defence of the casting couch. Saroj is such a fixture in the film industry that whatever she says carries the weight of the teakwood table in Abraham Lincoln’s library, the one that only actor John Abraham can lift an inch. Her friends circle includes all the ‘Khans’ and quite a few ‘non-Khans’.
And, brothers and sisters, the casting couch is just another piece of furniture that pretty girls aspiring to become Bollywood starlets should get familiar with in the prone position, said Saroj Khan. The casting couch phobia should be cast aside because it provides livelihood and at least they (pretty girls) are not raped and left to fend for themselves.
“Ek baat batau ye toh chala aa raha hai Baba Adam ke zamane se. Har ladki ke upar koi na koi haath saaf karne ki koshish karta hai. Government karti hai. Government ke log karte hain toh tum film industry ke peeche kyun pade ho? Wo toh roti toh bhi deti hai, rape karke chorr toh nahi deti,” said Saroj Khan, who made her mark and her millions teaching dance gestures to Bollywood actors. “It all depends on the woman. If she does not want to be a victim, then she won’t be one. If you have your art, why would you sell yourself? Do not blame the film industry; it is what provides us our livelihood.”
Khan jolted the “industry” with her “candour” but almost every Bollywood bloke admits that the casting couch exists. Actor Raza Murad said the casting couch has been around “since the beginning”, but that “Koi Kisi Ko force Nahi Karta, gunpoint Mei Nahi Karta, Sab Ladki Pe Nirbhar Karta Hai, Female Pe. Bacche (children) Pe Rape Karta Hai Family member, Yeh different Hai.”
This when Delhi’s pretty girl was about to get a feel of the casting couch. Quite willing not to be the runaway bride, pretty girl looked at the Marwari movie producer, at the hair on his skinny chest, thinking, ‘Aw, everybody went through this. What’s so special about me except that this old man thinks he has got his hands on something special? Okay, old man, bring it on.’ And Saroj Khan was proven right, once again. It’s just another day in Bollywood and just another time when casting couch introduced a star!
But there are questions to Khan’s open recommendation for the casting couch. Hopefully, it must not have anything to do with pretty boys having to pass the couching cast test for entry to Bollywood. Director Vivek Agnihotri, soon after Saroj Khan’s outburst, broke through the gender divide and told media that pretty boys too have to face the casting couch challenge which is not as bad as getting thrown out of a Big Boss set, the good news is the casting couch is gender neutral!
Coming at a time when ‘rape is in the air’ and lots of Bollywood people have blamed ‘Hindustan’ for putting ‘India’ into disrepute by raping innocent children, Saroj Khan’s defence of the casting couch (rape by consent) is not only “bizarre but (also) distasteful”. And it is so contrarian to the #MeToo movement the West is roiled in with heavyweight Hollywood producers such as Harvey Weinstein cast out for their past instances of sexual harassment and rape of Hollywood starlets who are now Oscar winners and getting on in age.
#MeToo is a global phenomenon though ‘global’ apparently doesn’t include India. So we haven’t seen any powerful Bollywood names get the #MeToo taste. #MeToo in India is #NotInMyName and candlelight marches at the dead of night when only perverts prowl the streets. Bollywood movies are full of rape and molestation and stalking with a song on the lip. Bollywood makes a song and dance of the ‘rape culture’ in India and yet accords consent to grappling on the casting couch. Par for course!
Back home in Delhi’s Mayur Vihar, pretty girl’s mom, talking over the fence with sour-faced neighbour, has just broken the ‘great news’ that pretty girl has got a big role in a Bollywood flick. Sourpuss breaks out in a big smile, smirks, “Casting couch?” Pretty girl’s mom in her middle-class maxi and hair in a bun on top of the head, shoots back: “Don’t be crass. That Saroj Khan, she was just shooting off her mouth. Some pretty boy must have told her ‘no, nada’. My pretty girl did not have to go through the stuffed sofa routine. She’s got talent. And, if you heard, Saroj Khan has apologized. OK.”
That’s right. Saroj Khan has “apologized”. But let’s not be fooled the casting couch has been there since “Baba Adam’s time”. It’s a piece of furniture made of Bollywood, Tollywood, Mollywood, Lollywood and Kollywood. It is teak pretty girls (and pretty boys) can stake their futures on. (IPA Service)