After several Hollywood actresses revealed experiences of sexual harassment -- better known as casting couch -- a local model-turned-actor has also opened up about a culture which, sorry to be blunt, is not so secret at all.
While reporting on the revelations made by Faria several papers used the term “shocking allegations.”
Let’s be honest: Is this shocking by any means? I would say this is just like reacting to the discovery that, in Dhaka, within a five kilometre radius of any area, one will be able to find at least three licensed bars.
The approved watering holes are there; only those who frequent them know where they are. No signboard is needed to spell out the word “bar.”
Similarly, what happens in the film plus the media industry behind the curtain is a knowledge which usually circulates within the people who are involved in it.
Just like our treatment of many vices, the rest of society pretends they do not exist, hence the reaction of make belief disgust when the news actually hits us in the face.
An essential part of filmdom
What Faria said is something which goes back decades. In her interview, she said that often she was told to “sit” with producers after shooting. This is actually the euphemism. In Bengali, the line is: “Producer er shathey boshte hobe.”
In recent times, the line has seen a change: “Giving some extra time to the producer.”
The message is clear. No one needs to utter the word “sex.” In our constant efforts to put up an ethics-driven façade of society, being direct would be so vulgar.
But it’s better if I go into examples. Writing on movies and films, I had the chance to interact very closely with a lot of aspiring actresses, and in almost all cases the “special request” was mentioned as a pre-condition for a contract to be signed.
The trend goes back decades. A senior producer, now in his 60s, with several hit movies of the 80s under his banner, not only spent time with actresses, but also had one as a permanent girlfriend, taking her overseas, hiring a flat, and living as a couple.
His film house was well-respected and many young girls came to him to be given the chance to act in his forthcoming productions. Some had aptitude for acting, others did not, but irrespective of the girls’ acting potential, in most cases, he entered into a secret agreement with them which involved physical intimacy.
Some of the women later got acting parts, others were paid cash, while few very close ones were given flats or generous gifts to start a new life after marriage.
Going beyond one-time intimacy
The Bangladeshi actor in question only shed light on one side of a mutli-faceted culture. Asking for special privileges before a film contract is signed is the normal stuff.
The other dimension sees a producer becoming besotted with an actress, and then deciding to keep her as a courtesan, providing her with a flat, car, and monthly expenses.
I interviewed a film director who left his high-paying job at a telecom firm to make films. After his movie came out, he expressed despondently that his producer was more interested in the actress than making the film, in which he (the producer) also had a part.
“After the movie, the girl had become the producer’s unofficial girlfriend, showered with gifts and taken overseas to some exotic resort to avoid creating a stir inside the country,” confided the director.
A few years ago, a rising actress committed suicide and it’s widely believed that, while she was on the payroll of a hotshot businessman, given a luxury car and a monthly allowance, she made the blunder of falling in love with someone else.
The “sugar daddy” came to know of her romance and cut off her privileges, and the girl went to her lover for solace and support. Unfortunately, the guy also discovered the girl’s clandestine arrangement with the tycoon and refused to marry her, leading her to take the extreme path.
Once a film is declared, the crew can travel legally across the country to shoot and while the slapdash shooting is underway, the ‘other’ work is done. Only this time, it’s a group engaged in the romp
Looking at another dimension of the not-so-secret culture, we have the sham movie initiation events, or “bhua mohorot
” in Bengali. This is actually a sex racket on a larger scale.
Ostensibly, a movie is declared with actors and actresses introduced at a public event. A name is pronounced followed by a gala dinner or an extravagant party. Then the film never sees the light of day.
In fact, the movie-making is just the pretense. Once a film is declared, the crew can travel legally across the country to shoot and while the slapdash shooting is underway, the “other” work is done. Only this time, it’s not just one person but a group engaged in the romp.
The legality of film-making, attained during the fraudulent initiation, works as a protective cover.
The actress who became a mistress
A young girl I knew came to the city from a very sketchy background in the villages. With allure and power of seduction, she soon found herself in the midst of the media mania.
Taking part in several false initiation programs, she discovered that this would not provide a regular income and, therefore, started to look for a steady patron. In this industry, if one is willing, there’s always an eager benefactor.
She secretly married a man who appeared to be interested in making films. This man was married and when the news of this new alliance came out in the open, the girl was in a legal wrangle, and ended up in jail.
Coming out from prison, she went back to the media industry, searching for another sugar daddy. In an interview, she told me that one guy, again a married producer, had proposed to her and she was willing to consider on the condition that the man would keep the relation with her totally under wraps.
The girl is no longer in news media; safe to speculate that she is quite content with her latest arrangement.
Casting couch and yaba
In a predatory society where ruthless consumerist ideals seem to rule, the glamour world’s manipulative and macabre underbelly is not just about secret sex, but also about using the face of razzmatazz to masquerade the yaba trade plus widespread addiction.
We get regular reports of law enforcers confiscating yaba pills worth staggering amounts in street value. The reports of busting usually deal with low-level street gangs or root-level carriers, but maybe it’s the world of stardom which needs to be infiltrated by the law to find the insidious presence of yaba in the hidden side of glitz, which also perpetuates a rampant sex culture behind the scene.
Reportedly, what Faria said drew flak from several people who were vehement in upholding the morally correct side of the media industry. Well, this is not to say that clean dealings without surreptitious demands are not done, but let’s also not try to carry on the charade of spurious puritanism either.
The casting couch exists in too many variations, that’s the truth. The actress has talked about only a fraction of the culture.
No surprise there is outrage because, inherently, we have a mechanism that drives us to constantly kick into the grass the rather unsavoury facts which stand to threaten the modest, conservative image we frantically try to project.
Towheed Feroze is a journalist working in the development sector.