By Subhash K Jha
BOLLYWOOD: CCTVs are no longer enough to protect producers and directors from the potential threat of being accused by aspirants of sexual misconduct.The alarming buzz doing the rounds in the entertainment industry is that there should be a complete ban on all interaction with newcomers.
A leading filmmaker known for his high-gloss glamorous passionate films says, “If this can happen to a guy as gentle as Subhash Kapoor, it can happen to anyone. I had already made up my mind to keep all interaction with newcomers at the lowest ebb. Now I’ve decided to completely ban meetings and conversations with aspirants.”
And we are not talking about only actors. Even aspiring directors, lyricists, musicians and technicians have come to a zero-access stage with established filmmakers.
Forget a big break. All hopes of any kind of breakthrough are now braked.The matter of filmmaker Subhash Kapoor’s public run-in with starlet Geetika Tyagi has re-opened the Pandora’s Box in the film industry regarding the ever-sensitive equation between filmmakers and acting aspirants of both sexes.
Some years ago an aspiring actress Preeti Jain accused Madhur Bhandarkar of rape. Bhandakar went through years of tough criminal proceedings before he was finally exonerated of the embarrassing charges.One now hears he is casting 6 new girls in his next film. But they would all have to be sourced and accessed through the casting agent.
“Madhur would meet them directly on the sets,” says a source close to the project tersely.
After the Bhandarkar-Jain conflict there have other loud murmers of sexual dissent. Dibakar Bannerjee and Onir were among the prominent filmmakers who were recently put under the sexual scanner.
Opinion on the accusation of sexual misdemeanour hurled at Subhash Kapoor is sharply in his favour in the film industry. Though only one filmmaker Tigmanshu Dhulia has come out in open and vocal support of Kapoor other sections of the industry see the Subhash kapoor incident as a major turning point in the equation between the film industry and newcomers.
A senior intellectual filmmaker speaking on condition of anonymity says he has a lot of misgivings about the incident. “It somehow doesn’t sound right.I don’t know Kapoor that well. But I can see a personal element clouding the incident, and that’s not good.I used to meet a lot of new talent. But now I am guarding against un-monitored meetings. What if I don’t cast someone and she turns around and accuses me of misbehaviour?”
Female casting directors are the need of the hour. More and more filmmakers would rely on professionals casting directors preferably of the female gender .All the casting at Yashraj Films is done by Shanu Sharma while Sanjay Leela Bhansal has lately employed Shruti Mahajan to do all the casting in his films.
Subhash Kapoor continues to get muted support from the film industry. Most filmmakers who spoke in support of Kapoor off the record said to keep them “out of it”.
“It is politically incorrect to speak in a man’s defence in matters of sexual harassment. Look at how friends of Tarun Tejal are heckled and hounded when they speak for the man. It is insane, the way the dynamics between the two genders work in the work place these days,” says an avant garde filmmaker adding that he would think “not just twice but a million times” before casting any newcomers. “And I am not talking about just female newcomers.What guarantee is there that male aspirants wouldn’t turn around and accuse a filmmaker like me of sexual misconduct when I don’t cast him?”
While most filmmakers spoke off the record in support of Subhash Kapoor only Ashok Pandit showed the courage to speak openly in the beleaguered filmmaker’s defence .
Says Pandit heatedly, “The fear of being accused of sexual misbehaviour is palpable in our film industry. Most filmmakers have installed cameras on their offices and don’t entertain newcomers in their homes at all. Casting agencies are hired, and they do the auditions and send the DVDs of newcomers to directors. So direct communication between filmmakers and newcomers is jammed.”
Without mincing words Pandit states that a lot of the sexual accusations in the entertainment industry are motivated by frustration and the desire to get publicity. “The best way to grab space in the media is to accuse filmmakers of misconduct. Newcomers allow some people to enter their bedrooms to get roles and when the roles don’t come their way these newcomers cry rape.”
Pandit says these overnight headline grabbers are heading for a career on reality shows. “Finally the gates of Bigg Boss open for these newcomers. Their job is done. But the question of motivation remains. When a newcomer shoots and releases a video with a filmmaker on You Tube, the intentions are crystal clear. Funnily enough you wake up two years after the incident apparently happened claiming that that the Tarun Tejpal incident inspired you. The victim in the Tejpal incident had reacted immediately. So the question to be asked from the alleged victim in Subhash Kapoor’s case is, where were you for two years? Would you have not made the accusation if the Tarun Tejpal case had not ‘inspired’ you? And would you have made these accusations if Subhash Kapoor had signed you for his film’s lead?”
Adds Subhash Ghai, “The story of sexual-harassment accusation exists since the advent of the entertainment industry.Who exploits whom? That’s the question in every business sector. Stories about the Casting Couch have always fascinated people. I am no one to judge anyone.Every actor was a newcomer once. But how many of them claimed to have faced harassment?”
According to producer Siddharth Jain a lot of the filmmaker-newcomer logistics depend on the filmmaker. “How we conduct ourselves sends the relevant signals to the newcomers. Only filmmakers with ulterior motives need to be wary.One needs to conduct oneself professionally, that’s all. There is no need to get paranoid as long as professional lines are not crossed. I don’t know the details of this incident. But I believe if meetings happen during office hours in the presence of the office staff and if parties and alcohol are not used as an excuse for social networking, such incidents won’t happen.”