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Casting couch is nothing new, says Bollywood

By Subhash K. Jha, IANS

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The allegation of rape made by a little known model against film director Madhur Bhandarkar seems to have fired the media's imagination like never before.

But there have always been rumours about a casting couch in Bollywood.

In this case, the model has alleged that she and Bhandarkar had sexual relations over a period of five years from 1999 to 2004.

She has been quoted as saying that the director had made false promises that he would cast her in his latest film "Page 3" but did not do so.

Bhandarkar has been booked by Mumbai Police on charges of rape and threatening to kill her, but he has been granted interim bail till July 27 by a local court.

The director - who found acclaim with "Chandni Bar", a film about bar girls, the flesh trade and other sleazy exploitative activities - claims the model has made the allegations for publicity.

And the film industry seems to be backing him.

A young actor who has worked with the director and knows him well said: "Madhur and rape? That's a laugh. Loads of filmmakers in Mumbai sleep around. It's a common practice. No one has to force a girl on to the casting couch.

"Even before producers and directors ask them to sit down in their office, these girls are lying on the couch. It's basically an established barter system. 'You give me what I want, I'll see what I can do.' No guarantees. Sometimes the wannabe doesn't get the career push she's looking for. That doesn't mean she should holler rape."

Another young director said: "If Madhur was really raping the girl, why did she wait for so long? How could he have bullied her into having sex repeatedly?"

A leading actress who has worked with Bhandarkar vouches for him. "Not once during the year that I worked with him did he act lecherous with me. Madhur has always behaved like a perfect gentleman. And why does he need to rape women when they're throwing themselves at all these promising directors for bit roles?"

Many girls, and nowadays even aspiring male actors, apparently see the proverbial casting couch as a shortcut to success. "And no strings attached," warns a very famous producer.

"It's strictly a matter of consent among two mature adults. Where's the question of pressurising the girl? Or seeing her as a poor victim of circumstances."

Bhandarkar isn't the first Bollywood product to be accused of making lewd advances. Many decades ago, a starlet called Sabiha accused Rajesh Khanna of lewd conduct on the sets of a film called "Aakhri Raasta". She disappeared from movies thereafter.

Some years ago, actress Mamta Kulkarni too had accused movie moghul Raj Kumar Santoshi of unbecoming conduct. She vanished thereafter.

Singer Alisha Chinai took composer Anu Malik to court for alleged sexual advances. A year ago they decided to bury the hatchet.

A young actor said wryly that if promising roles in return for sexual favours as a criterion "was a cognisable offence, 90 percent of Bollywood men would be behind bars".


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