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"I have faced the horror of casting couch situation": Sarah-Jane Dias
Here is another on the casting couch...The sordid Simran Sood-Vijay Palande episode has brought Bollywood's infamous casting couch under the scanner yet again. While some say that many newcomers continue to encounter it, others maintain that this now takes place more in television and B-grade cinema.
The 'couch' process starts much before an aspirant comes face-to-face with a director or a producer. Toots, who claim direct access to the big boys of Bollywood, accost newcomers outside production houses and then it may be several rounds before the starlet finally gets to meet the person/s who will be deciding on casting her.
Of course, there are directors who defend "genuine" producers, but even they agree that Andheri's Lokhandwala is perhaps the epicenter of Bollywood's casting couch. Even men are not safe. Actor Ranveer Singh is one who "almost fell into the casting couch" during his early days of struggle when he was targeted by a producer, surprisingly known to be a "thorough gentleman".
But the casting couch is far more prevalent in the television industry where actors find themselves dropped from entire episodes if they do not agree to oblige. Stories of youngsters getting exploited-be it for a roof over their heads or a two-bit role in a film - are all over Lokhandwala.
Filmmaker Sudhir Mishra, known for thought-provoking films such as Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, rubbishes talk that the casting couch is rampant. "The Lokhandwala film industry has been infiltrated by fly-by-night producers who exploit newcomers," he says. The real tinsel town, in contrast, has corporate funding, image makeovers, and branding exercises. "The casting couch may be happening in the B-grade industry, not in places where serious cinema is happening," says Mishra, adding that young filmmakers don't exactly need some couch to satisfy their "needs".
The casting couch happens at a lower level, he says. "The stakes are too high for big production houses and they can't jeopardize their image by indulging in such acts."
But ask any
There have been several instances in the recent past where starlets have leveled charges against some known directors. Casting director Abhijit Singh says, "It may be happening at the assistant director and coordinator level and in the case of smaller films. Most of the big production houses hire character actors through agencies and the main actors deal with them directly. There is a chance if the director likes someone, then he does the deal directly."
Asked if the allegations of the casting couch were being made by starlets to blackmail filmmakers, Mishra says, "The term is used by those who fail. I have only one suggestion to make to anyone who is seriously aspiring to make it in the film industry: if suggestions are made, just slap the person." But seniors insist that casting couch always existed over the years and it has only changed forms. It is said that quite a few top actors and actresses