Defending the existence of casting couch in Bollywood, the veteran choreographer Saroj Khan claimed that it is based on the principle of consent. Khan sided with the film industry against allegations of women’s exploitation by saying, “Har ladki ke upar koi na koi haath saaf karne ki koshish karta hai. Govt ke log bhi karte hain. Tum film industry ke peeche kyun pade ho? Woh kam se kam roti toh deti hai. Rape karke chhod toh nahi deti.” (One or the other person always wants to sexually exploit every girl. Even the people from government do it. Why are you targeting the film industry? At least, it gives you work or doesn’t discard you after rape.)
The three-time national award-winning choreographer has received a lot of flak for her comments.
Yeh chala aa raha hai Baba azam ke zamaane se. Har ladki ke upar koi na koi haath saaf karne ki koshish karta hai. Govt ke log bhi karte hain. Tum film industry ke peeche kyun pade ho? Woh kam se kam roti toh deti hai. Rape karke chhod toh nahi deti: Saroj Khan on Casting Couch. pic.twitter.com/xvHxSbvhzg
— ANI (@ANI) April 24, 2018
Yeh ladki ke upar hai ki tum kya karna chahti ho. Tum uske haath mein nahi aana chahti ho toh nahi aaogi. Tumhare paas art hai toh tum kyun bechoge apne aap ko? Film industry ko kuch mat kehna, woh humaara mai-baap hai: Saroj Khan on Casting Couch. pic.twitter.com/kYpPAPWMtB
— ANI (@ANI) April 24, 2018
Khan further clarified her stand by saying that a female artist always has a choice. She can choose not to work with someone who demands sexual favours. After all, why would you sell yourselves, if you have an art/talent?
Khan’s words make us wonder if an industry veteran thinks casting couch is normal, then imagine how commonplace this practice must be?
In the wake of #MeToo movement many have pointed out to the exploitation of women in Bollywood. Time and again we wonder, whether our own film industry will ever have a #MeToo movement of its own. But while the entire world came out in force to reveal the depths of sexual harassment of women at workplace, Bollywood has kept mum. The reason being that sexual exploitation is a compromise or a barter in the film industry.
The best defence industry insiders like Khan offer is that women always have a choice whether to give in to such demands or not. But just because the industry is willing to give you work after exploitation, does it make it’s crime any less severe?
Mutual or not, casting couch is exploitation
There are many like Khan, who defend the ways of Bollywood by calling it a compromise.But at the end of the day, if sexual favours creep into your workspace even if willingly, then it definitely is exploitation, no matter you earn a roti or a role in the return. While the veteran dance director has offered an apology for her remarks, Khan’s statement has ended up affirming the existence of casting couch in Bollywood.
Till now it has been just an elephant in the room, now this beast has flesh and blood. Her statement is like a bitter pill we need to swallow because it will shake our conscience.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.