Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts. These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
India - Casting Couch (BBC) -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

India - Casting Couch

Broadcast: 13/06/2006

Reporter: Tanya Datta


DATTA: Mumbai, the economic juggernaut that drives India is a city that both assaults and excites
the senses. In this metropolis of almost twenty million set on the coast of the glittering Arabian
Sea, contradictions are everywhere. Fabulous wealth sits alongside dire poverty and crowning it all
is the dizzying glamour and energy of Bollywood, the keystone of India's vast film industry.

But something is amiss in the city of dreams. Sordid revelations of a casting couch culture have
rocked the town.

SAKSHI SIVANANDA: [Actor] I'm going to sit and say I am not going to take to the casting couch and
I'm going to like stick to my own thing, I would have people tell me like, why are you stupid? It's
a professional hazard and you've got to go with it.

MAHESH BHATT: [Film maker] People in a position of power exploit the weak, the vulnerable. That
seems to be the perverse side of human nature.

SHOBHA DE: [Author] I'd say eighty percent of all the big acting roles and even some of the minor

DATTA: Eight percent?

SHOBHA BHATT: Eighty percent. As high as that.

DATTA: So are the seductive fantasies of India's Masala movies based on something more sinister?
Are film roles being traded for sex in Bollywood?

The issue first surfaced when this was beamed into millions of Indian living rooms [news report]. A
popular Bollywood actor called Shakti Kapoor was trapped in an elaborately planned sting operation
by the news channel India TV. Shakti specialises in playing villains but here he was the bad guy in
real life.

In the footage he's seen propositioning an undercover reporter who's posing as an aspiring actress.
A drunk Kapoor is caught offering to help her career in exchange for sex, something he claimed,
sensationally, was common practice in Bollywood, even amongst its biggest stars.

MAHESH BHATT: It really took the nation by storm. That Sunday, people did not go to the temples or
to the churches or their mosques. They sat riveted in front of the television screen.

SHAKTI KAPOOR: [On news report] Now you listen to me. I want to make love to you. I want to make
love to you, I want to kiss you. And if you don't want to do that, it's cool. But I've got to go.

DATTA: India TV weren't slow to see the impact of their story. They ran it continuously on their
rolling news. Here was the proof they claimed of the problem that the Indian film industry refuse
to confront. In the days following, the expose was dissected endlessly and friends and colleagues
spurned Shakti.

His twenty seven year career as a screen villain appeared to be on its last legs. Well I've come to
the glamorous district of Juhu where most of the film set live to meet Shakti Kapoor and hear what
he's got to say for himself.

Hello! Hi. Shakti Kapoor? Hi nice to meet you.

SHAKTI KAPOOR: Nice to meet you.

DATTA: From the BBC. My goodness look at all of this!

SHAKTI KAPOOR: This is all my work. My films, my silver jubilees, golden jubilees, all my awards.

DATTA: The corridor of fame.

SHAKTI KAPOOR: The corridor of a lot of hard work.

DATTA: So tell me about the night of Sunday, March the 13th and when...

SHAKTI KAPOOR: March the 13th...

DATTA: And when the infamous broadcast happened.

SHAKTI KAPOOR: [Actor] Yeah it was one of those nightmares. It was actually one of the worst days
in my entire life. I was on the road, coming back home and I was speaking to my daughter who said
Shakti there is this woman who entered the room. She tells to sit and you want to go and she says
no sit and she makes you sit. She offers you a drink and Papa, I mean you don't even know the
camera's on and you, I mean you guys are discussing sex.

DATTA: Your daughter was telling you this?

SHAKTI KAPOOR: Yeah cause I was on the way and she said nothing doing Papa come home. And she was

DATTA: So she was watching you.

SHAKTI KAPOOR: Yeah and she was crying. I said oh shit. I mean...

DATTA: What about your wife was she here?

SHAKTI KAPOOR: She was in the States luckily for me otherwise she would have killed me but there
was such an evil reaction from the entire country at that time, the entire film industry they
thought that I've done about ten to twenty murders at one time. It was like I was a terrorist. I
felt like crazy. I mean I said how could this happen to anyone?

DATTA: Just four days later the controversy escalated. India TV ran an identical sting on a young
television star and the channel warned that more exposes were in the pipeline, sensing real danger,
the cinema world went on the offensive. Some of Bollywood's biggest screen heroes came out and
condemned India TV for its methods and its motives.

What was the impact on the film industry here?

MAHESH BHATT: Shock. Like an animal trapped in the glare of a headlight. Immobilised, paralysed.
Then came outrage. Then came denial. And they haven't moved out of the denial mode since then.

DATTA: Mumbai is full of beautiful young people knocking on doors trying to get a break and with
the explosion in Bollywood's popularity in the UK, there's also a steady influx of British women
who've set their cap on making it big here. I met up with a British Asian actress, Rani Vishnu.

So you didn't have an agent, so how did you start approaching directors and producers? What did you

RANI VISHNU: I actually knocked on the doors. I marketed myself so I approached them myself.

DATTA: How common is this? Is there a lot more direct interaction between actors and actresses and
directors and producers?

RANI VISHNU: It is, it is. I find it is.

DATTA: Shobha De is India's Jackie Collins, an author and society doyenne. She says that it's
precisely this informality that can lead to the personal approach getting too personal.

SHOBHA DE: An intelligent girl knows exactly what is meant when a producer tells her meet me in a
suite at eleven at night or meet me in a farmhouse outside Bombay, or why don't you catch flight,
I'm shooting in London, why don't you come meet me there? And a lot of them know exactly what that
suggestion means and are happy to go along.

RANI VISHNU: I phoned a well known older actor. I phoned him about six in the evening to say could
I make an appointment to come and see him tomorrow. I was asked to go to the hotel at ten in the
evening to go and see him.

DATTA: At ten in the evening?

RANI VISHNU: Yeah and I said I can't make it.

DATTA: So what did you understand he meant by that?

RANI VISHNU: Well I find it, if you're sort of going to go give an audition, you don't give an
audition at a hotel at ten in the evening.

DATTA: Did you get considered for the role you were trying to audition for?

RANI VISHNU: No I have my dignity. I'm a more professional actress and if I'm good at my job then I
should get a job, not by sleeping but by acting.

DATTA: Now this is the sort of place a young hopeful wants to hang out. It's a fresh new film with
a very young cast and production team. There's no shortage of energy or enthusiasm on set here and
I noticed there's no shortage of attractive extras either, waiting for their big break.

The hero is an up and coming young star who also happens to be the nephew of film mogul Mahesh
Bhatt. The female lead, as seems par for the course these days, is a former Miss India. But is
talent being overlooked in the pursuit of sexual favours? I'm on my way to meet an actress called
Sakshi Sivananda. She says that it's her refusal to play along with sexual expectations that's
impeded her career.

SAKSHI SIVANANDA: I've had a couple of direct experiences.

DATTA: Tell me about those.

SAKSHI SIVANANDA: Where I had one director say that I was playing dumb. He said you know what? This
is not going to work with me you playing dumb. I mean like I'll say it directly to you, that when I
cast someone in my film, I need complete involvement and I was like that - professionally I mean, I
am a very committed person so I will give my best but he said no I don't think you're getting me. I
mean like body and soul involvement.

DATTA: Body and soul?

SAKSHI SIVANANDA: Yeah it's not only being cast in a film where the casting couch exists, it's also
after that at every stage having a close up of you is taken, you're being made to feel as if like
they're doing you a big favour.

DATTA: What so if you're in, if you've already been cast for a film and the director is then saying
to you in order to do a close up of you, there's got to be some quid pro quo.

SAKSHI SIVANANDA: I mean they make you feel as if like you know I'm taking your close up and I
could like take a long shot and your performance will just go unnoticed so the fact I'm taking a
close up is a very big thing.

DATTA: Within acting circles, stories of the casting couch are discussed but such tales are
carefully concealed from the public. Immediately after his indiscretions, Shakti Kapoor was
blacklisted by the industry but only days later the ban was withdrawn and in an extraordinary
twist, the expose seems to have revitalised his career.

One evening I accompanied Shakti to a film launch, at a lavish five star hotel where it soon became
clear that he was very much back in favour with the film elite. This sophisticated party was
attended by some of Bollywood's most influential powerbrokers. Their public backing of Shakti was
pointed. It's this kind of mutual understanding he says on which Bollywood function.

DATTA: How does it work Shakti when you're considered for a new film? You have lots of meetings?

SHAKTI KAPOOR: No a lot depends on your relations. Like if he wants to make a film, I don't want to
have a meeting with him. He just says Shakti you're working for me.

DATTA: So there isn't a formal auditioning process or...

SHAKTI KAPOOR: Everything is so understanding you know?

DATTA: As the stars pose for the society snappers, I wondered whether the scandal had actually
provoked any soul searching about the issue at stake itself.

Do you think then Shakti that the whole storm that was created over the string operation on you,
overshadowed the real problem which is that there is a casting couch culture in Bollywood.

SHAKTI KAPOOR: Casting couch is not in Bollywood, it's all over the world. It's like give and take.
I'll be lying if I say it doesn't happen. It exists everywhere. So you don't have, it's no big
deal. Nobody's raping anyone but now what has happened, what I, my experience is a lot of these
girls who want to become actresses are, fifty percent of them they come to a big producer and
director and they say if you give us a role we're ready to do anything before the director or
producer can even say anything, these girls offer themselves.

DATTA: You think it's always one way? You don't think producers and directors sometimes approach
the girls?

SHAKTI KAPOOR: No, no it's both ways, it's both ways. This is what they call in our film industry
'will you cooperate with me?' They don't say I want to make love to you...

DATTA: Will you cooperate with me.

SHAKTI KAPOOR: And the girls, and the girl comes sir if you give me any role in your film or give
me a role of a heroine, I'll cooperate with you.

DATTA: Isn't there a degree of exploitation if you have a young vulnerable woman who doesn't come
from a film dynasty...

SHAKTI KAPOOR: See I mean if she's offering herself...

DATTA: ... trying to get a job. Not if she's offering if it's made clear to her that a role is
dependent on a sexual favour.

SHAKTI KAPOOR: So then she can say no and go back home.

DATTA: But the casting couch can never offer any real guarantee of a part, as actress Pretti Jaiin
knows from her own experience with one high profile Bollywood player. She claims she consented to
sex with him because he promised her marriage and good film roles but neither were forthcoming.
This she says is common place.

PRETTI JAIIN: [Actor] They utilise the girl again once or twice or till whenever she realises that
she has been fooled and not only do they do that, in the evening they have a network. They already
have a network of other producers and directors who are like minded. They sit and drink and they
say oh God this girl is just new you know and she's so stupid you know we have just fooled her. Why
don't you also fool her.

DATTA: But the women that go along with this are not, they're not begin forced into it, they are
still giving their consent to what's happening.

PRETTI JAIIN: I'm not saying anything. I'm not at any point saying that that is rape. I'm not at
any point saying that, but what I would like to say here is that it is consent which is falsely

DATTA: You're saying it's exploitation.

PRETTI JAIIN: It is rampant exploitation and it is a social evil which needs to be addressed and it
has to be addressed very soon.

DATTA: Some people might find it hard that you didn't come out about it sooner.

PRETTI JAIIN: Considering the kind of society we are living in, people are very much like you know
people find it very strange that I've come out even know because the kind of society we are living
in here people don't really, here women are very subdued. Something happens to them, they go in a
corner, they cry or they hang themselves by the ceiling fan but they don't divulge, they don't
speak up which is why such malpractices continue.

SHOBHA DE There have been women who have taken a stand or taken a position and well we know where
they are - they are nowhere. They're on the fringes still hoping that things will change but
cynical and kind of sad and disillusioned but still hoping.

DATTA: Speak out and risk condemnation or play the game and risk being double crossed. Either way,
the lack of a clear recruitment process has allowed some of the most powerful in the business to
take advantage of the least.

MAHESH BHATT: I think one should be outraged at this practice. It has a stench of bygone days. It's
a feudal mindset. There are laws in civilised countries which protect women and men from these
humiliating situations.

DATTA: It's time for one last meeting with Shakti Kapoor but when we arrive on the set of his
latest film, all is not going to plan. Everything was ready to role when a problem came up - the
tide came in. As the film crew de-rig and retreat a couple of hundred metres in land, Shakti's
sleeping off the after effects of the night before. At last he makes an appearance. For a man
caught so very publicly seeking sex while promising career guidance, what words of wisdom would he
now offer an aspiring actress confronted with the same problem in Bollywood?

SHAKTI KAPOOR: Whenever a woman gets used, I mean I've seen ninety percent of these women not
getting no roles at all because once they are used they're thrown out because then a producer or a
director wants a lot of dignity in his film and he feels that this woman is a very cheap woman and
she's very easy and it's no problem, I mean I shouldn't cast her in a film because she's got no
standard. If you think that you're going to compromise or cooperate, you're going to cooperate your
chances are a little lesser than if you don't cooperate. So work hard and there's a lot of work in
the film industry without cooperating.