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I've been propositioned by men who were in a position to cast me: Swara Bhaskar

The actress, who was last seen in the critically-acclaimed film Anaarkali of Aarah earlier this year, talked about the Indian film industry’s own allegations of sexual harassment in an interview with tabloid, Mumbai Mirror.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Sonal Pandya

Every day, more and more voices are gathering the courage to speak out against their tormentors after the international publications The New York Times and The New Yorker revealed their stories of sexual harassment and rape against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Since then, women and men have come forward to speak about their personal stories against directors like Brett Ratner and actors like Kevin Spacey.

Back in India, Swara Bhaskar is one of the few who is sharing her own experiences about the casting couch and being propositioned.

In an interview with Mumbai Mirror, the actress summed up the dynamics of the film industry, saying, “The way a film set operates is often feudal and always hierarchal, where some people give instructions and others execute them. It is an uncertain place ruled by fortune, the cruel seductress, populated with a crowd of forever anxious ambitious dreamers and hustling freelancers. If you succeed, money, glory and power is yours. If you fail, the world falls apart.”

Bhaskar pointed out that artistes are vulnerable because of their position and may not want to stick their neck, only to be trolled for supporting someone. She gave the example of comedian Mallika Dua who was attacked on Twitter for speaking out against superstar Akshay Kumar. She attributes this hostile environment to the Hindi film industry not being “conducive to an honest conversation about sexual misconduct.”

Many people choose to stay silent, she noted in the interview, as the industry is small and most people are friends or related to the accused. Bhaskar lauded the Malayalam film industry for founding an anti-sexual harassment committee to assess certain cases. 

She spoke about about staying strong and not giving up as over the years, she was “propositioned by men who were in a position to cast me. I lost a few roles because I didn't give in.” 

Bhaskar then spoke about her own experience of being pursued vigorously by a film director when she was starting out as an actress. She said, “I was asked to go to his hotel room on the pretext of discussing the scene and would find him drinking. During the first week itself, he started talking about love and sex and one night, arrived in my room, drunk, and asked to be hugged. It was scary!”

When she finally confronted the unnamed director about his actions, she reported that he “acted hurt and said I had misunderstood him. He stayed away for two weeks, then he was back to his tricks.” Bhaskar had to get help from an executive producer who provided an escort for her protection. 

Her advice to those actresses facing pressure on the casting couch was, “Lose the part but don't get on the couch. It's not a feminist choice and it's certainly not a liberating choice. It's like giving a bribe and that is succumbing to a wrong.”

Furthermore she said, “We need to stop silencing and start sharing. We need to stop slut-shaming and ask for a collective platform to deal with this issue. We are all guilty of being in the know and remaining silent. And that is complicity."