[VoxSpace Exclusive] Casting Couch Confessions Part Two : The Status Quo And The Solution Sets

Chapter One: July 3rd, Anupama Restaurant & Mess, Rd No 36, Hitech City

When I see her, the first word that popped into my head was Fear. She was afraid. Trembling and shivering in fear. As I asked her to take the seat, within the A/C division Anupama Restaurant, at almost 10.30 in the night, I could see that there was something terrible which had happened. I know this girl. I’ve met her a couple of times. Shilpa Jain was never this devastated. She always had this honest smile about her, which made the whole place brighter. And here she was, trembling to put words together. I offered her some water, as she slid to a side, a leaned onto the wall. After a couple of silent moments, she stared back at me, hoping to find some solace. I empathized with her, I could probably tell her that everything is Ok, and perhaps it happens, but the thing is I can’t lie. Everything is fucking, is not Ok. And, whatever it is, it shouldn’t happen. So I just stare back at her, as tears start to spoil her mascara, and as she tries to wipe them, leaving a black smudge across her eyes.

“Don’t do that?” I said involuntarily. Those are the first words I say to her after three months of being in contact. After all, she had called me here just an hour back, randomly. She never had before. She knew I was working for VoxSpace, and perhaps she had a story that she wanted to bring out. And maybe that’s why I was here. Little did I know, that the situation was so grave. And that the story would be her’s.

“SHUT UP! SHUT UP! FUCKING SHUT UP!, I’ll do whatever I want. Ok? I’ll do what I want..” she shouted and immediately tears welled up in her eyes, as she broke into uncontrollable sobs. My weakness in consoling people has always been my curse. Inhuman practicality is not something I am proud of, and hence I’ve never had many friends as well.

“Ok. Do it” I say

“Ummm..What?” she says looking up at me, with a dazed look.

“Nothing. You called me Shilpa. What happened?”

“I came to an Audition here. For a YouTube Web series?”

“Ok, here meaning?”

“Here only. It’s a media house”

“Continue…I don’t know much about Media Houses”

“Yeah. So there is this web series they are starting Ok? So one of my friends found a Casting Call poster on Facebook and tagged me in it last month. So I came here Ok?”

“Did the Audition go wrong?”

“I…I…” she stops midway and looks down. Clearly, she’s trying to gather everything she wants to say. I realise that she wants me to do something about the thing that she wants to confess. That’s why I am here.

“Are you ok, Shilpa?” I say, hoping that she finds enough strength to talk about what happened.

And then she spoke. With all her anger and with all her frustration. With all her strength and honour. She spoke. For the ease of understanding the following is what she said in person.,

“……….So I was called by this guy, Harish after I send them my resume and photoshoot pictures ok? This was when somewhere two weeks back. So the media house emails me back that, they wanted my phone number to let me know when the audition was going to happen. It’s a major media house, so automatically I gave the number, like WhatsApp number and house number also I gave so that if I don’t get a call on my phone, I can get it at home. So, two days back, this Harish guy, he calls me Ok? He says, acha Shilpa, we have seen your profile, and we like it and all. And then he asks me if the YouTube links I sent of my previous work, are they all or do I have any other links also? I say no because I had only two major YouTube works, others are like very amateur short films which I didn’t want to put on my resume. Ok, so I tell him, that Sir, I have only these two links. So he says, ok Shilpa, these are also good, we will call you, but we are just sceptical about your experience, otherwise is great…”

“……Last night, at around this time only, he calls me and says that there is an audition tomorrow. That is today. And he says the audition will be held at 8 in the evening. Now you know, I live in Maredpalli na, so I said, Sir, 8 clock is kinda tough for me, as it is really far off for me to come, even in a cab. But he is like, we can’t postpone the auditions just for one candidate, so you come around. We’ll pay for the cab if you have money issues. I said, nothing like that Sir, I’ll come. He says, good and let me know when you are coming. Ok. Then, today morning, I tell my mom that I am coming to Pooja’s house in Hitech city for her birthday, and tell her that I’ll stay with her only tonight. After much convincing she allows me to go. Our family is like any other Jain family ok. Like we are very much conservative. I lie to them and come to audition. I call up Harish before I take a cab, and he sends me the location on WhatsApp”.

“….So I arrive here at like 7.45, and call Harish. He asks me to come into the gate, and take a left to the office. I do so, ok? And it’s a stupid thing I did. I could see that the place was almost empty, except for the watchman and a couple of other people who were smoking up at the corner. So, as I approached the office room, a peon appeared and he says, Madam sit here and wait, Harish sir will come in five minutes. He also asks me for chai and coffee, but I refuse anything. Something doesn’t appear right. After a few minutes, this Harish guy comes and sit across the table. That’s when it all goes wrong. The first thing he says, is I look great, and asks me if I have auditioned with them before. I say no, and he says that’s ok. I think he was drunk because he was staring at my breast all the time. Then, he says, so here is the role. You play a modern Hyderabadi girl, nothing done before on YouTube. Like your language, and your fuck all attitude will be a revolution in the industry. Can you do that? I said I didn’t understand.

“He said, ok let me be frank and honest, are you open to smooch scenes. I didn’t say anything. Basically, I was confused. He then said, look, Shilpa, I’ll be frank with you, I have auditioned senior YouTube stars today, and I think I can go with them. But only thing is, I need a fresh face, doing bold stuff. That’s the role. It’ll change the industry only. So you need to tell me if you are ok with smooch scenes. I said, Sir, I don’t even know what the part is, and if the script is like that, I will think about it. He says, Fuck the script, I want to know if you are open to going bold or not. Ok, ok, tell me, what size are you? I say, excuse me? He says, your boobs size. What is your bra size? I remain silent. He goes like, fucking conservatives, this is why we aren’t getting AIB, TVF Qtiyapa, kinda stuff, you know why? It’s because of you, you people come here as if you are coming to temple. When will the whole change come? You can’t even speak about your Bra size, how can you play the role. Then I reply, 28 to 30 full. Good good, he says, come out, you need to come out, how old are you? I say, 23, Sir. Boobs of 30 at 23? Nice, he says.

“Now, swear as much as you can, he says, while standing up and coming to sit in the chair next to mine. I say I can’t swear unnecessarily. Then he says, I knew you wouldn’t haha, and pulls me closer, and kisses me. Immediately, I push him back and I don’t know why I start crying. It’s as if everything is happening somewhere else. I can’t understand what is happening. Before I realize, he pulls me again, and kisses, and I can feel his hands on my breasts. This time I push harder, and standup to leave. He laughs, and says, fucking virgin. You can’t handle a kiss, how will you kiss the lead. Fuck you, I don’t want you. Next time, you beg also, I won’t give you any role. And every media house is a friend of mine. I will tell them how fucking cheap you are. Fucking passion, it seems. Now where is the passion, huh? No one will give you any work, you’ll come back to me. I just silently walk out saying anything. That’s all and here I am”.

Present Day: VoxSpace’s Open Letter To Mr Harish

Dear Mr Harish,

You know who we are and what we are capable of. We’ve met if you remember. Maybe, you have a lots of friends in media circles, and we have a lot of enemies in the same. But here’s the thing, we are here for you, and not in a good way. And we welcome any media house to protect you from us. Let us see. We shall be waiting for your apology to the victim, Shilpa here. If your apology doesn’t reach Shilpa by October 15th, we shall reveal your ‘passion driven’ audition tapes to the world from October 30th. We are here and we are watching.

You know what you did, and we know what you did. You are now responsible for Shilpa’s career.

Unusquisque Se A Criminibus,

Mr.Fox,

VoxSpace.

Editor’s Note

In our highly controversial series, we continue with the “Casting Couch Confessions” here. We bring to you, in this part as well, true stories of people affected or implicated into a situation of submission, by someone in the dominating stature. However, where does our responsibility end? Is bringing out these stories enough? We have realized over the past week, that speaking about it is just one aspect of it. The second more essential need to address is the way these situations can be avoided or handled. You see, most of these cases, are plagued by two factors. Firstly, the accused belongs to a dominant background and brings with him an influential power. Secondly, even though the victim has been wronged, they would not ideally want to speak about it for the fear of losing work. It is such an irony to see, that when we converse with some victims, they are more than happy to share what happened to them, but as soon as the article is up, they deny any connection to it. I suppose the implications of truth are a bit too much to handle. It has always happened with us, and by now, we’ve become quite used to it really. Owing to these two factors, we decided to talk to brave people from the industry on several things, and in the process find a resolution or as we say, a stepwise solution set for handling the situations of “Casting Couch”. As always, if our research and presentation, help at least a few people out there in the industry, we will consider it a victory. Let the bravest people survive and attain glory. In this regard, we would like to thank our friends, Gautami Challagulla (Writer and Director), Gayathri Gupta (Actress), and Aditi Myakal (Actress) for their valuable inputs.

Chapter Two: My Casting Couch Confession – Gayathri Gupta (Actress)  

As with any industry, there is always a good mix of incredible people to work with, and utter perverts who try to corrupt our system. For the most part in my career, I have been fortunate enough to work with good, talented people who exude a wonderful vision, not only towards the work that they do but also towards the wholesome development of the Industry. First of all, I’d like to thank them, because they make us believe in our talents and hard work, as we can see that, at the end of the day, all our dedication towards the art form, gets rewarded. They make the whole journey of being an actress, exciting and rewarding. It is because of them, people look to us with admiration, and give us the stature that we truly deserve. However, as they say, where there is good, there is bad, our Industry is home to a few people, who tarnish the image of the whole industry by their acts. One such incident that really shook me up in my career, involves a few of these people.

It was back in 2012, that I was making early inroads into the Industry. My career was shaping up in a good form, with exciting projects and teams. At this time, a certain cinematographer, by name Kishore, contacted me. He had received my number from a mutual friend, and he called me up late at night. He said that he was incredibly excited to talk to me, and asked me if I was interested in a Tamil movie. This Tamil movie, he claimed, would have a great technical and onscreen cast, and would be bilingual when it releases. He presented a picture of a big budget blockbuster, with the who’s who of Tamil Industry involved in it. Obviously, I said I would be interested in this project. Since it was at the start of my career, I saw this as a great opportunity, which could truly benefit my career. As our conversation went on, I asked Kishore about my payment and the number of days of shoot. He said that the shoot would be in Chennai for 10 days, and the payment would be pretty good. We then discussed the range of payment and fixed on something decent. So we talk out every aspect, he said that he would book tickets for me to Chennai, the following night. At that point of time, I was staying in a room, with a roommate of mine, and she would accompany me to auditions or meetings, whenever it seemed necessary.

Touch Down In Chennai And The Awry Fight

Obviously, Chennai and 10 days, was something that I hadn’t done before. So I asked my roommate to come with me. She agreed, and we boarded the luxury bus to Chennai the following night. It turned out that Kishore had booked tickets for the same project, for another actress as well. Her name was Keerthi. She introduced herself to me and asked me if I had talked out the payment and everything, with Kishore. I said yes, and we journeyed to Chennai.

So the next morning, Kishore and one of his friends, Jaggu, received us. I came with my roommate, and Keerthi had her Mother travelling with her. So, he picks us up and takes us to a hotel in Nungabakkam, in which he had booked two different rooms. We occupied the rooms, and freshened up. At this point, Kishore came to us and asked us to get ready and come with him to the shoot. A direct shoot, and no audition and no meeting and nothing. Keerthi, who had been the industry for quite a while, sensed that something was fishy. She said that we wouldn’t come to the shoot unless we are paid upfront for it. It was a simple logic. With such a big budget, obviously, they would have to pay us beforehand. They refused to do so. Kishore left at that, and till the evening, Keerthi and I, just talked and formed a good friendship. She expressed that something was not right here and that we should leave in the night.

In the meanwhile, at around noon, Kishore and Jaggu, arrived again. This time they said that, Payment would be made on the set, and that we don’t have to worry about it at all. They also said that, we should be a bit flexible about payments and stuff, because there’s such a huge cast, and it takes some time to pay everyone. So, we said Ok, as we understood that it might be possible that what he is saying is true. But then, they said, that we need to go to the shoot right away, and without our company here. Simply put, they didn’t want my roommate, or Keerthi’s mother, to come with us to the location. The reason was simple. They claimed that these people might disturb the shoot and the Director doesn’t like to have extra people on the set. Again, we stood our ground, by saying that, we will only come if our people come with us too. They had no choice, but to agree.

The Circles Around The City And Zero Destination

So, we got into an SUV, and Kishore drove it around the city. Strangely, he wasn’t stopping the car anywhere, and we had been travelling for almost two hours. While he was driving, Jaggu turned to us and said that there was shopping mall nearby and that we should ask our people, to get off there and pass time, as we would be taken to the shoot nearby. The more he said that the more we denied. At one point, Jaggu yelled at Keerthi and her mother, for being so strict. He cursed her saying that they were being very difficult to deal with. And that he had worked with a thousand actors and actresses till then, and all of them take his word with respect. Slowly, the words turned into a verbal fight, when even my roommate and I, got into it. We drew out points like lack of payment, lack of proper paperwork, and everything that was bothering. The fight went on, and they stopped the SUV and asked us to get out. All of us got out and made our way home by the night. It was only because, we were four of us, that they couldn’t do anything to us.

When we got back, we tried to research about them. We talked to the technicians and knowledgeable people within the industry about this Kishore and Jaggu. Incidentally, a few people actually knew them. Since, Kishore was a cinematographer, shuttling between Chennai and Hyderabad, there were people who knew what he did. As we enquired further, we clearly understood, that Kishore and Duggu weren’t doing anything that they said they would.

They were making Adult Pornographic Movies in Chennai. And they tried trapping us for the same. They wanted to us to come alone so that they could Abduct us, drug us, and force us into Pornographic movies. That has been their mode of operation for quite a while by then. Their target had always been fresh artists, who have lesser fame and backing in the industry, and trap them. The irony of this thing is, even today I see Kishore roaming freely in the industry after being validated as a pimp in the industry. People still trust him as a good cinematographer. I hope by this article, I can make people aware of these assholes, who are damaging the reputation of the film industry. It is because of these people, that outsiders have a very volatile impression of our work.

Chapter Three: My Casting Couch Confession – Aditi Myakal (Actress)

My experience with Casting Couch kind of scenario comes at a time when I was just initially making my mark in the industry some four years back. To give a background of myself, I come from a simple middle-class family, and since I was interested in acting, my family has supported me in pursuing a career in the same. In that sense, I have always believed in coming to the industry with all the training I can get, and therefore I enrolled myself in theatre troupes, which helped me a lot in discovering and honing my acting abilities. So my foray into Industry is one which is traditional you could say. First theatre, then short films, then supporting characters and so on. At one of these junctures, as my career progressed, I used to receive calls or Facebook texts of people who were unofficial casting agents per se.

In one such incident, I received a text on Facebook, from a person, who claimed he had a script which could work only with me. It was a strong female-oriented movie. So, I met him and we discussed the script. The script was really impressive, that I can say. And then he asked for my quote. I said I will have to discuss with my parents. That’s where, he said, that a Producer would happily give me 10 lakhs if I agreed to “Commitment”. I immediately walked out from there. Obviously, he called me again, and this time offered 17 Lakhs. In addition to this, he said that I wouldn’t find work if he denied this producer and it would end my career then and there. I politely told him, that I can get work from my hard work and talent, and nothing else mattered to me. He then said a couple of things, which I find hard to tell you in this article, but these implied that as an outsider, and an unwilling outsider, he would make my life difficult. I got off the call, and he never contacted me again. However, the incidents like these started happening more frequently than ever.

 The Golden Ratio Of Compromise – The Hierarchy Of Crime

This incident that I would like to share, happened before I became a known face. I received a Facebook contact from one of my friends, of a person, Lakshman, who was looking for new faces for his film. My friend asked me to try and contact, and see if something works out. So, I contacted him and told him that one of our friends had given me his number. He initially asked my name and where I came from and said he’ll call up after some time. When he did call, he started speaking about incredible things and projects he was involved in. He was basically, as he claimed, involved in three big-budget projects, involving reputable Tamil directors and actors, and a couple of films in this industry as well. He started telling me that he was connected, and he could make me a superstar if everything went well. Even though I started sensing that something was wrong, I had to give him a benefit of doubt. See, in our industry, self-boasting is a universal feature every one of us has. Even actors, actresses, technicians, always claim that they know this person, that person, or are involved in so and so projects. That adds to their image and self-validation. We try to sell a good case for us, and always claim big names. Anyway, that being said, he started narrating me a story premise, which he said would feature a leading hero. He obviously, offered me a heroine role clearly. All this was happening on a call, which was now almost an hour long.

At this point, he expressed the golden ratio of compromise. It’s simple. He said, that he could cast me in these projects if I underwent three levels of compromise. First I had to sleep with him twice, for him to even consider me for these projects. And then, once I was selected for any project, I had to sleep once with the director of the film. And once I was finalized, and before the movie hit the floors, I had to sleep with the main lead once, as and when he wanted. So the golden ratio was ‘Two:One:One’. Simple. You want to get a role, he said finally, you need to abide by this ratio. Otherwise, don’t waste my time, he said. I said bug off and never contacted him again, trusting my dedication to the art form, to take me forward.

The incidents all continued in a similar fashion. The basic keywords of these incidents, which are used by these fake casting agents, or people out there to abuse you are simple as the following. When you hear these words, you need to get sceptical about the project for sure.

The words are – Compromise, Commitment, House Party, Guest House, Private Meeting, Long Drives, Go Bold, Broad-Minded, Vacation invitation, Payment of more than required, Come alone, Keep this to yourself and many other things. These things are basic giveaways, but at the end of the day, it’s your smartness and vigilance which will protect you. So I would say be vigilant.

Chapter Four: Safety Measures And Formulation Of A Solution Set By Gautami Challagulla, Gayathri Gupta, And Aditi Myakal

Formulation Of Identification

1. When technicians like Hairdressers, Stylists and costume designers, it is mandatory to get ID cards from the film chambers, we need to ensure that the same system is in place for every person claiming to be a casting agent or mediator.

2. Also, if the fee for registering junior artists within film chambers is too high, most of the junior artists cannot register themselves. This should be looked into, and make the registration affordable to those entering the industry.

3. What these registrations do is that, firstly, when you are a junior artist, you get an authenticity of the people you are talking to. If something goes wrong, you can always revert to the Council, and identify the person and lodge a complaint.

4. The basic problem is that, although Casting Couch is prevalent in the industry, no one wants to talk about it. They will only defame and insult the person going in to complain at the council. He or she will end up not getting any work at all. In such situation, most of the artists, never go and complain or speak out about this. It’s always a hushed-up whisper. And as long as they don’t speak up, the accused will deny and bash the incidence. To ensure that, there must be a system, where the aggrieved can complain to a body of people, in confidence. It could be a private complaint, upon which an independent enquiry could be called.

5. Identification and registration help offer a small hope that yes, there could be something of a legal comeback to the victim. It’s a small chance, but it will be an important change altogether.

Creation Of Awareness

1. Most of the artists today, feel depressed and dejected owing to the lack of work. And a majority of them try to just stick to movies. This thought needs to be modified. The artists need to think that keeping yourself busy with work, is the only way forward. When we look at Hollywood, we see that even the biggest stars are not afraid to foray into Television or Netflix series. But that shift is lacking here. Most of the artists, only want to do Films and nothing else. And when they don’t find Films coming there, for a long period of doing nothing, then they realize that they need to act in Serials, for their livelihood. But by that time, they were well past their prime, and nothing works for them. So a better practice would be to, keep yourself busy. As long as the content is good, there is no harm in shifting between TV, Web Series, Short films, and movies. The idea is to keep doing something and not be idle. Even if it an indie project, even if the payout is low, the smart thing is to believe in these projects and do it. That will ensure that you are doing good work, and good work is always understood and appreciated in the industry.

2. To sort out the form of depression that the artists go under, (that is the time when Casting couch materializes), it is an idea that they should find a job for themselves. Even if it is a part-time one, you need to keep the finances coming, at least for the bare survival. Having a job always helps you figure out stuff.

3. Academic awareness. Most of the times, as artists, we stop learning and knowing new things. One part of doing better is, to have some educational background and certification. The best advice would be to enrol in distance education in local or national universities. And get a basic degree which will help you survive if nothing works out. And not just academic awareness, if you want to truly make a career, you need to understand cinema on a global scale. If not anything else, by attending screenings of international movies, or watching them regularly at home, you know where you stand in terms of capabilities.

4. Always socialize and communicate. Today’s biggest problem is that we do not have Confidants. You have a problem, and you will deal with it. But what if, you can’t. It is always good to place your trust in someone. Yes, it is difficult in the volatile industry to actually trust someone entirely, but try taking that chance. By being alone, you will only go into depression. If not anyone else, make it a habit to talk to your parents, brothers, sisters, or cousins, or friends who are outside the industry, regularly. Tell them what is happening in your life, and sometimes they might have the solution for your problems. Even if nothing else, at least talking out will clear up your head and let you compromise on your dreams and aspirations.

Ideological Change In Treatment Of TFI

1. The basic problem that we are facing with our Industry, or for that matter, another movie industry’s in India is that we aren’t looking at it as any other regular employment industry. It lacks the structure of hierarchy and accountability.

2. The logic is, if in a software industry, or academic institutions, you can have a CASH (Cases against Sexual Harassment) committee, why not for Film Industry. Obviously, when Casting Couch occurs, doesn’t that amount to workplace harassment. In this regard, a formulation of CASH committee, in association with SHE Team could be an answer. If not all the cases, at least the fear of the system, will keep a few people in check.

3. At an ideological level, if our senior women members of the Industry, form a certain group, let’s say a counsel wing, for junior artists, that could work as well. You see, in most of the cases, the women are the victims, and even after they’ve undergone such victimization, they have no clue what to do. Now, when senior female members of this Industry come together to make a wing, the artists at least have someone listening to them. This so-called Wing can then guide the victims to legal course or solutions. A group is always stronger than the individual. And this Wing would work better if these women belong to different categories and departments. Let’s say a good constituency could be someone from Direction, another from Music, and yet another from Photography and so on. It helps in dealing with several diverse issues, under the same roof.

4. Always inform someone. Meeting a Director? Going for discussing a script? Just Socializing? Always, make it a point to send your location to at least one of your trusted people. If some activity is planned outside the city, it is better that you don’t go alone. Always take someone. If you even have a hint of doubt about the person you are talking to or communicating, try to collect evidence. Save the chat backups and record the calls. Of course, these need to be done with prudence, and according to the circumstance. But yes, try to be as vigilant as possible.

Chapter Five: An Intelligent Director’s Fuck All Rant On Part One Of Casting Couch Confessions – To Perfectly Show What’s Exactly Wrong

Dear VoxSpace,

First of all, you are a bunch of idiots. And the problem is you don’t even know this. Just because you know a few things about our Industry, no one gave you a right to comment on it. Casting Couch Confessions – wow, what a wonderful title. The amount of thought you put to write the title, if even half the thought you would have put in the purpose of the article, it would have been great. We know what we are doing and how our industry works, ok. So you don’t have to call us out. Who the heck are you by the way? I can destroy you right now if I just want to. So what exactly is your dickhead attitude? Where is it coming from, asshole? If you are man enough come find me, ha-ha, you won’t even know who sent you the mail. So listen up fuckers.

Girls come to us, and not the other way round. We are happy casting people, who can act, and are good in the role. If we were casting girls only on the basis on sex, no movie or series would be a hit. So get your facts straight fuckers. They come to us, begging for roles, and hinting that they will do anything for us. In most cases the sex is consensual. Do you even understand the word consensual? Adults have sex with consent from each other. So where is the concept of casting couch now, huh? That’s Casual sex, and if you are from this city, I think you have an idea what I’m talking about. When did Casual sex become a crime?

So, don’t try to be a hero. I’m giving you a chance. Hold your wild dick, and go piss somewhere else. You can’t turn even a stone here, chutiya. You bring out this mail also, I will ensure that you go down. Go down and get out forever. You think you are the only who can write pages and pages of articles. Fuck you. You see what we’ll do now. You will be shamed so much, that you will fucking have no idea what to do. Fuck you. Fuck VoxSpace.

Regards,

Happy Being Anonymous.

In Reply,

Dear Sir, 

We’ll  try. Nevertheless. Thank you. 

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