Bollywood outraged as actor names stars who offered roles for sex

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The Independent Online

The Indian film industry is in shock after an investigative television programme showed apparently conclusive evidence that Bollywood is dominated by the old-fashioned casting couch.

The Indian film industry is in shock after an investigative television programme showed apparently conclusive evidence that Bollywood is dominated by the old-fashioned casting couch.

The producers of India's Most Wanted have explosive footage that appears to show one of Bollywood's best known stars offering an aspiring actress help with her career in exchange for sex and telling her that the practice is common. He then goes on to name five of India's most famous movie stars and says they have all made use of the casting couch.

The "aspiring actress" was actually an undercover journalist and the whole conversation was filmed. The actor, Shakti Kapoor, claims he was set up. He says the woman reporter encouraged him to talk about sex and that the tapes were then edited. "I am pained at the way the channel framed me. I have no doubt it was an attempt to tarnish my reputation," he said.

But the Film and Television Producers' Guild of India has called for a ban on Kapoor appearing in any movies or television programmes, and demanded that he apologise to "all those whom he has insulted and slandered".

Kapoor is best known for playing villains in Bollywood movies. In the footage he names two actors who he says helped three actresses that he also names to get ahead in exchange for sexual favours. Some of those named have reacted furiously. One called Kapoor "insane".

Kapoor claims the undercover reporter kept calling him for six months and threatened to commit suicide if he did not meet her. "I did go to meet her at Hotel Tulip Star," he said at a press conference. "I am not a saint or god. I am a healthy human being. I admit that I did wrong, but the girl provoked me to make certain gestures and indulge in sex talk."

It is not the first time that disturbing allegations of this sort have come out of Bollywood. Last year, there was a high-profile court case after a model and aspiring actress filed charges of rape against a well-known director. And a British actress reportedly said a Bollywood producer told her: "I have given you a role in my movie. Now what will you give me?"

If Kapoor has let the curtain slip, the signs are the Bollywood establishment will not be forgiving. "Shakti Kapoor has been completely irresponsible in his behaviour and utterances and must publicly apologise to all those whom he has insulted and slandered," said Supran Sen, secretary general of the Film and Television Producers' Guild.

What has really annoyed Bollywood is not Kapoor's alleged attempts to make use of the casting couch, but that he named others.

A spokesman for the guild, Anandya Dasgupta, said the ban might be withdrawn if he apologised to the other actors he named - implying that in the eyes of the guild, the crime is not asking for sex in return for helping an actress's career, but revealing to the outside world that this goes on in Bollywood.

Mahesh Bhatt, a producer- director, said the casting couch was a reality in Bollywood. "Vulnerable women do become victims but not everyone is like that," he told the Indian Express. "We have to accept that women are still weak and exploited and this episode is part of that exploitation."

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