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The Casting Couch Is For Real. I Have Faced It Myself.

12/04/2016 8:43 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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A model is silhouetted as she wears a creation for Fausto Puglisi women's Fall-Winter 2016-2017 collection, part of the Milan Fashion Week, unveiled in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

I received a call last evening from a casting agent in Chennai. As someone who has recently started modelling and acting in short films, these calls are pretty routine and I have come to look forward to them.

This man claimed that he works both independently and with a casting agency (he gave me the name of a website and narrated a brief history of the company he is employed with). He also informed me that he gets in touch with models through Facebook and other social media platforms.

He told me that he would like me to work with him - either through the casting agency or through him independently as my manager. He then went on to explain how the relationship would work, how commission would be calculated and how contracts will be signed. He then said that he immediately requires models and actors for a couple of small-budget Tamil movies, some ads and a few photoshoots among other things.

Eventually, the discussion veered towards a casting opportunity for a small budget Tamil movie he was associated with - and he was looking for a female lead. He thought I suited the character and he wanted to talk to me before he sent my profile to the producer.

Now at this stage, I was quite interested, thinking a movie would be a fun thing to do. I'm not looking to make it big in the industry but I love acting and if this gave me an opportunity to act, I would. I showed interest in his offer. It was then that he paused and very seriously said, "But before all that, I want to tell you about the industry and how things work."

"Vaishnavi, there are two types of projects in the industry," he began. "Clean projects and compromise projects. You can choose to do both, or you can choose to do only clean projects if you're not comfortable compromising."

I was confused. What the hell is a 'compromise' project?! This man's English wasn't very good, so I thought maybe he was referring to aspects of the job that many people refer to as 'compromising position'. Say for example, an intimate scene, or a bikini shoot or maybe even semi-nude or nude shoots.

I wasn't completely certain, so I decided to clarify and asked him what he meant.

"Compromise, like, in different industries we use different words. In Tamil, compromise, in Telugu, commitment, Hindi, party. Understand?"

"I don't ..quite understand what you're saying," I replied. I was still genuinely confused.

And then he broke it down for me.

"See whatever you call it - commitment, party, sexual, relationship - you have to compromise with the producers and directors if you want to get a chance. The competition is very high."

"You mean sleeping with the director or producer?" I clarified.

"Yes. But only during the shoot time. You make a deal with them and then after shoot they will not bother you. So will you be okay to compromise?"

He asked it in the tone you'd offer someone a cup of tea or a biscuit.

I wasn't surprised. We've all heard the stories, but I was a little shocked. Shocked that it was happening to me. I've been to casting calls before, but I've never been propositioned like this. Ever.

"There are clean projects too," he tried to reassure me, sensing my shock from the silence. "But very few. I have never seen in my two years' experience."

I took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," I said, in my most polite voice, "I don't plan on being a famous movie star. I don't want to do this. I have too much self-respect to sleep with someone to get a role."

He didn't quit. He tried explaining further, in the most nonchalant manner possible, "I always tell my girls, first you compromise and get visibility. Don't worry about money. Once you do 2-3 movies and establish yourself then you can demand whatever you want."

I remained silent.

"You may want to do clean projects. But let me tell you even clean projects don't remain clean. You will get a role and the client will agree to pay you one lakh. Then one girl will come and tell the director she will do same role for same one lakh but she will compromise. Then a second girl will come and tell him that she will compromise and do the role for 50,000 rupees. Finally a third girl will come and say, I will do it for 50,000 rupees and for 6 months after the shoot also I will have sex with you. These are all low budget films, obviously the director will try to save money and get additional benefit. If they have budget they will hire famous actors no? And then if you create a scene and don't compromise, they will bad mouth you and ruin your reputation."

I was horrified and disturbed all at once. I gathered all my thoughts.

"I'll tell you what," I declared. "Let me know if any of these producers and directors want to compromise with me in front of a camera. That day I'll be willing to act in their projects. Until then your "industry" can go to hell, my self-respect is more important."

I hung up.

Before you call me out for slut-shaming, which a lot of my friends did because I used 'self-respect' and 'sex' in the same sentence, let me put this into perspective. This is not about having sex with whomever you please without being judged. Imagine you paid a bribe to a college to get a seat, and you didn't have the merit to get in, but because you paid that bribe some other student who worked his/her ass off to get merit is denied admission. Because you stole their seat by paying money. That, is what this is.

A lot of talentless people have saturated the entertainment industry and have stolen the rightful employment of far more talented actors and artistes just because they are willing to go to have sex to get work.

Why wasn't I asked about my work? Why wasn't I asked to do a reading? Why was there no screen test? Why instead, was I asked for my vitals and then told, "It's very important, it's the first thing producers and directors ask for"? Why are my "curves" of great value if "you want to grow in the industry" and not my ability to act? Why is my physical appearance and willingness to sleep with the director more relevant that the emotion I can bring to the screen for the role. Because some talentless people will do anything for fame. And that is my definition of having no self-respect.

As one of my good friends always says, "Never work for free. You're taking away a job from someone who deserved it and would have gotten paid for it if you had any talent and the other person wasn't so cheap."

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