BENGALURU: Telugu actor Sri Reddy recently, allegedly fed up with demands of sexual favours in the film industry, staged a shocking protest – she stripped in public.
So, is there really a casting couch? Kannada actors, directors and producers cautiously say that they will not deny it. But, they add, one should be strong enough to resist it. Sri Reddy says that her resistance has earned her a ban in Telugu film fraternity and an eviction notice from her landlord. Actor Sanjjanaa agrees that sexual favours are asked in the film industry, but by a small minority. She says that actors should bring this to people’s attention but without harming their reputation.
‘Branded as a problem employee’
"People will think that she is someone who will be pain to work with. This should have been handled delicately and intelligently. An actor should not be so desperate for a film. Just because two to three per cent of the industry is corrupt, it doesn't mean the entire industry is dirty. There are honest filmmakers who choose actors that fit the role," she says.
She adds that though she does feel bad for her, she will not support her act of protest. Sanjjanaa says she once asked to go to Bangkok for a shoot by a producer without her family so that “they can spend some time together”. "I had signed a contract that included two tickets for me and family and three for my staff. But the producer did not get ticket for my father and, in the end, I bought his tickets. If I had not shown up at the sets, it would have been very unprofessional. The producer kept pestering my make-up artist, about why I brought my father along with me. I then had to yell at him in front of everybody and that's when he stopped," she says.
‘Commitment is the code word’
Harshika Poonacha, who has worked in all the southern regional language films, says her team firmly says 'no' when the PROs or co-ordinators from Bollywood ask her managers for 'commitment'. "The moment they or I hear this word, we flatly refuse. They say Harshika will never agree to any of these things," she says.
She adds that she hasn't heard of such experiences in the Kannada film industry. "I have heard of such practices in the Tamil, Telugu and Hindi film industries," she says, adding that choosing the casting couch is an individual's choice.
Director Pawan Kumar is currently shooting the remake of U-Turn in Telugu in Hyderabad. He says that such demands are made when struggling actors are desperate for a role and, hence, are forced into the casting couch.
‘Speak up immediately’
When such incidences occur, Pawan Kumar suggests, people should speak up immediately and not delay reporting it, as it may weaken their case. He says that there should be laws to protect whistleblowers and the civil society should give them a platform to speak up. "In the industry, a body should be constituted to protect them and encourage them to be vocal about their experiences," he adds.
Actor and activist Chetan Kumar has founded an organisation called Film Industry For Equality (FIRE) to support women writers and workers in the Kannada film industry. "I don't know the details of Sri Reddy's demands and I don't know what exactly her personal experiences were, but I do feel that she and many others don't know how to address this issue. I feel it needs a concerted voice and it needs legal backing. Under the 2013 Prevention of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace Act, the film industry must have a strong redressal committee too. Each industry should set up one on their own. Within the film industry, there must be ways of addressing this anonymously. Once names crop up, it becomes more of a blame game," he says.
He adds that independent investigation must be done. "Women are already outnumbered and are not in positions of power in the industry, so it becomes very important that they are given a chance on the basis of their talent, not on the basis of sexual favours," he says. About FIRE, Pawan says this is a start in the film industry.