After hearing horror stories of struggling actors being exploited by casting agents, we decided to blow the lid off Bollywood’s worst-kept secret. In a sting operation, Asira Tarannum and Sonali Joshi Pitale meet casting agents, only to find that most of them are just glorified pimps
Bare some flesh to land a meaty role this clandestine arrangement between casting agents and aspiring actors is one of Bollywood’s worst-kept secrets.
Trading of sexual favours by an applicant, apprentice, or subordinate, to a superior, or prospective employer, in return for entry into an occupation, or for career advancement, is a malady existent in every domain. But, there’s a reason the term ‘casting couch’ originated in the motion picture industry.
Once we had decided to expose the corrupt casting coordinators of B-town, our first big task was to find the ones who would buy our story and try to help us land that big break in Bollywood. The stumbling block was that most of the agents we called, wanted us to send our photographs, and would then meet us if they saw it fit.
It was taxing to convince them to get together without the required pictures (‘semi-nude’, as one of the coordinators put it bluntly; another asked for a ‘bikini pic’.). We decided to play the damsels in distress and cajoled them to meet us to suggest the kind of photos that we must send out.
This trick worked, and we got seven of them to rendezvous. Incidentally, the first person, Piyush, whom one of the reporters contacted, had the latter’s number stored in his phone, identifying her as a journalist working with this paper. The perils of technology.
Casting agent: Vijay Rawal
After a conversation over the phone, Vijay Rawal agreed to meet around 3 pm at Bhaidas Hall, Vile Parle. Rawal is considered to be a popular coordinator among aspiring TV actors.
Soon after one of the reporters entered the auditorium, he hurriedly beckoned her to follow him towards the back entry to the stage. In the corridor were some green rooms, and Vijay ushered her into one. The reporter noticed that there were some girls sitting around already. Vijay referred to each of them as ‘baby’.
Minutes later, the reporter was taken to another empty room, and Rawal sat really close to her. The reporter introduced herself as Neha Sharma from Gwalior.
The first thing that Vijay told her was, `You do know that if you want to get into acting, you will have to make compromises. If you do that, you will have a bright future.` Then he went on to counsel the reporter to dress in ‘sexy’ clothes, which reveal her vital stats. `Your body is gifted by God, but you still need to wear sexy clothes when you come to meet me. You have to make money first before getting into acting,` were his words.
Then he went on to suggest the size of the bra the reporter should be wearing. `Even if you are only 30 per cent up to the mark in auditions, the remaining 70 per cent will be taken care of, if you compromise. Just spread your legs and see how things happen,` he preached.
After that Vijay, went on to boast about his friends who like to splurge on women. `Some of them have enough money to send flight tickets for you to go wherever they are, if you are interested,` he bragged. Then, he said that he wouldn’t mind spending a bit on sexy lingerie for the reporter.
By this time, he had clearly forgotten about the matter of film offers, and was only concentrating on telling the reporter how she should be servicing his clients. When the reporter asked about the kind of money one can make through these ‘compromises’, he said it ranged from Rs 15,000 to Rs 40,000.
He quickly added that he charges 15 per cent commission, but with her he could make an exception, if she let him ‘enjoy’ her.
When the reporter insisted on information about acting offers, his parting shot was, `We get clients regularly, so don’t worry, we will make enough money. Acting will also happen later.` That night he called up the reporter and asked her if she was free the next day, as he had already spoken to some clients and they wanted to see her pictures.
The reporter met him again the following day at a coffee shop in Andheri. He told her that he already had clients lined up for her, and that she should start working the next day. No films or filmmakers were mentioned.
Casting gent: Mayoor
Mayoor, who is also an assistant director, said that he recommends new girls and boys whenever they approach him for work. The reporter met him at Cafe Coffee Day at Fun Republic around 4:30 pm. When the reporter mentioned her apprehensions, he patiently explained to her, `Don’t be tense.
I am not that type of a person. If you can act, then you don’t have to think about it. There are three stages of casting: if you come to me, I will suggest your name to my friend, who will further recommend your name after an audition. Then, in the second audition, if I know the director, I will push, and tell him that you are suitable for the role. Finally, if the director is agreeable, he will help you clear the last audition.`
When asked about compromises one should expect, he said, `I am not saying it doesn’t happen. It does, but it completely depends on you. If you are willing to do it, then nobody is going to stop you, because you are a mature person. I am nobody to say that this is right or wrong. I have met girls who were ready for it, and I told them that they could go ahead and try their luck.
Some of them slept around with directors and got work, but some didn’t. However, I have met some girls who came back to me, saying a certain person was asking for favours. I told them that I would handle it, and if the next time they came across such a person, then they just have to say that Mayoor will let them know, and walk out of the audition. I am here to work and not put my mind into all this. I don’t make any propositions like that.`
Casting agent: Joe
When we called Joe, he came across as a professional, and insisted that the reporter send her portfolio pictures before he met her. When the reporter asked if she would have to compromise to get roles, he snapped back, saying, `Who told you all this rubbish? Such things don’t happen; it is all nonsense. You just have to send me photographs, and if I have a requirement, I will let you know.`
Casting agent: Advin Massey
Advin first called the reporter to his office in Lokhandwala, but then later agreed to have a cuppa at a coffee shop. Initially, he was not prepared to meet without seeing any photographs, but later relented.
Soon after meeting, Advin told this reporter, `Sab tarah ka kaam hota hai yahaan pe. Send me your pictures first, and then I can take things forward. Also, are you OK with compromising, because, not everywhere, but at some places, we get such queries? So, I need to know.`
When the reporter asked him who were the people who asked for compromises, he said, `I take care of television and shoots. So, there are times when assistant directors or creative directors ask this. If you are ready to sleep with them, they might consider you. For instance, if four girls have auditioned for one role, you will have the upper hand, if you compromise, and it helps.`
He showed the reporter photographs of a few girls in bikinis, and said, `Go home, wear a bikini, click a picture, and send it to me. It’s simple, and I have a shoot coming up on March 1. Let me see you do that bikini shoot. Also send me your vital stats,` were his clear instructions.
Casting agent: Mukesh Thakur
Mukesh sounded courteous over the phone and asked the reporter why she wanted to get into acting.
When the reporter told him that she hadn’t done any auditions and was only meeting people, he said, with what seemed like genuine concern, `You seem to be from a good family.
Don’t get lost in all this. Trust yourself, and meet the right people. Our job is to cast; later what happens between you and the director or the producer is not our concern.`
Casting agent: Shama Khan
The reporter spoke to her over the phone, and Shama made no bones about what she was expecting. `I hope you understand how things work in this industry, and you know what I mean, right? I need to give you tips on how to deal with clients. I will send you to my friends, and you have to take things forward from there. You know what will make them happy.`
Director Ali Abbas Zafar, who recently directed the Ranveer Singh-Arjun Kapoor starrer Gunday, strongly panned the casting couch phenomenon.
Director Ali Abbas Zafar
`It’s a glamour-driven industry. No matter where you come from, everyone arrives with big dreams to make it here. As a part of the film fraternity, I condemn the whole idea of the casting couch, which is not right, and is about using power in the wrong way. The most important point is the way things happen here should be legalised. Even the casting industry needs to go through a legalised process. You never know who comes with what intentions, and somebody can push you into a corner. Even for casting, things should be on paper and documented in the proper way. In our country, everything regarding the male-female relationship is under wraps. It’s about time we grow over it, and make sure things happen the right way. Any kind of exploitation is wrong.`
Director Sudhir Mishra said, `No good director will ever cast for the wrong reasons. As a director, my job is to make the film work on screen. Sometimes, real relationships may happen between two people.
Director Sudhir Mishra
But, in my case, I am here to tell a story and to cast the right actors. Directors are pretty clear about the fact that they want to get the casting right.
All I would suggest to actors is that they should work in theatre and do a lot of short films. If you know the work, you will be found. Be a little careful, and you will be all right. I don’t know about some shady things happening somewhere.
That’s the reason I mostly work with female casting directors, and I only meet the new actors at places of work for reading sessions, or on the sets. I can only vouch for good directors, and we are here to do good work.`
Director Sanjay Gupta said, `There are all kinds of people around. It’s up to the girls and boys to look after themselves. If you are ready to get into bed with someone, then be certain that you cannot get work like that.
Director Sanjay Gupta
People who want to work with you because of your talent will not take you to bed. I work with people whom I know; I rarely work with new talent.
It is very important to get the casting right, and of course, there are some people who are here for bu***hit reasons too.`