The film industry, media and movie buffs woke up to a shocking piece of news yesterday. Acclaimed film choreographer Saroj Khan’s shocking statement surfaced wherein she’s trying to convey that casting couch is not a big deal. Her complete statement was as follows: "This has been happening since time immemorial. Somebody or the other tries to cosy up to every girl. Even people in the government do it. Why are you after the film industry? At least the industry provides employment. It's not as if you are raped and abandoned." She further added, "It’s up to the girl. If she doesn't want to compromise, she won't. When you are an artiste, why will you sell yourself? Don’t say anything about the film industry. It’s our 'maai-baap'"
A section of industry and netizens are trying to explain that she has neither justified nor criticized the trend of casting couch and that she’s merely telling that why only film industry is singled out for this menace. Thankfully, this justification hasn’t worked and almost everyone is up in arms against this statement. Saroj Khan, shocked with the backlash, quickly apologized but also added “The media should at least listen to the question asked to me in the press conference.” She didn’t care to explain what the question that was asked was. Media also haven’t been playing the question asked to her, sadly, and they didn’t even ask her ‘So what exactly was the question’.
But it doesn’t really matter what the question was. Her statement in itself is sickening to say the least. Yes, it’s true that casting couch doesn’t just exist in the film industry and it’s probably happening everywhere. Those who desperately want success or promotion or are looking for that golden chance most probably would be ready to compromise, whether in films, media or even in corporate offices. But that doesn’t mean one should overlook this menace. Same goes for her statement that it’s happening since the time of Baba Azam. So what? Are we supposed to not talk about it and let this sick practice continue?
And this is a big indication why the #MeToo movement, which followed soon after the public revelations of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, will never get prominence in Bollywood. Actresses have spoken about casting couch and that it exists and that’s about it. Nothing concrete has been done about it. In Hollywood, we have seen how Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey’s careers have been virtually finished after allegations of sexual harassment came up against them. Even Pakistani film industry is ahead of us, after Ali Zafar was allegedly accused of being a sexual pervert. Down South, very recently, Sri Reddy stripped to protest casting couch. Sadly, she went a bit off track after mouthing expletives later on but what’s significant is that she dared to speak and do something about this cruel trend.
In Bollywood, nothing of that sort has happened, despite the fact that the identities of a couple of rotten eggs are known. A well-known acclaimed filmmaker was accused of molesting a female executive from his company in Goa. This happened more than a year back and it was expected that action would be taken against him. But nothing of that sort happened. His partners, it seems, forgave him and today he’s directing a film with one of the top stars of the country! Lyricist Varun Grover, who has worked with this company, was the only one who dared to speak up. The rest of them all went on mute. Even after Saroj Khan’s controversial statement was out, an attempt was made to imply that she was misquoted and misunderstood. Saddening!
Today in the afternoon, the Veere Di Wedding actors – Kareena Kapoor, Sonam Kapoor, Swara Bhasker and Shikha Talsania – would launch the much awaited trailer of their film. The first three in the star cast recently made headlines for protesting against the Kathua rape by holding placards. They are feminists who have spoken up about equal pay, rights of women etc. at numerous occasions. The media would definitely ask them to comment on Saroj Khan’s controversial statement. It’s important that at least they express their displeasure over her comments and not brush aside as ‘not a big deal’, ‘she was misquoted’, ‘she has apologized’ etc. As for really doing something concrete about the deep-rooted menace of casting couch, well that’s a distant dream!