Women are vulnerable in TV industry as there are not just pros but cons too
Vol 4 | Issue 23
In early 2000, Kamala Sahani (name changed) was working with a television director in Mumbai. Every Saturday, a well-known columnist from Delhi used to fly down to the city to give his “creative inputs” for the daily soap.
He would stay at a posh south Mumbai hotel and expect one of the director’s creative assistants to meet him in his room to “discuss the script”. The “discussions” were known to go on till he flew back the next day.
Television industry has become the preferred destination for scores of young women and men, who harbour dreams of making it big in India's entertainment capital (Photos: WFS)
When an unsuspecting Kamala first went for one of these meetings, he started raining compliments on her – “he began by saying how beautiful I was and how the dress I was wearing was suiting me”. Uncomfortable with the way the conversation was going she walked out.
“I went back to the production company’s office located in Worli, a well connected commercial district in Mumbai, and I told my director that the next time this guy really wants to give input, he would have to meet us in our office and not in his hotel room,” she recalls.
Kamala was alert and so she was able to save herself from a potentially difficult situation. But not many have been as lucky as she was.
Ever since the turn of the century that saw the mushrooming of over a hundred 24x7 entertainment and news channels in India, the television industry has been churning out content on the hour every hour, creating the space for employing a huge work force - producers, directors, writers, actors, anchors, technicians, and so on.
And thanks to the instant fame it offers, the industry has become the preferred destination for scores of young, small town women and men, who harbour dreams of making it big in India’s entertainment capital.
While the reputed production houses that usually have a clean record –even a remote complaint of harassment against an employee is taken seriously and s/he is let go immediately – by-and-large work with established talent, it’s the beginners who are vulnerable.
Unfortunately, a majority of the youngsters who come from the far flung corners of the country do not know what to expect and end up becoming easy targets for devious casting agents, fake producers or ‘start-up’ production houses that can sexually and financially exploit them on the pretext of making them a ‘star’.
Anamika Yadav, who heads a motion picture production company, Rajkumari Films Combines, has seen many newcomers fall in the trap of unscrupulous elements.
She explains, “When girls come to Mumbai they have this notion that in the world of glamour, sexual exploitation is part of life. They befriend an agent or someone from an obscure production house to ‘learn’ how to behave in this new world, which is very different from the small towns they come from.
“They feel they have to dress differently, learn to eat a variety of cuisines and have drinks. More often than not these fake agents, who promise them the moon, are the ones who take undue advantage.”
But, according to Bhumika Brahmbhatt, who has acted in few reality shows and serials, it is impossible to avoid agents in this industry as it is routine to get introduced to programme production houses through them.
“Cons are a huge stumbling block in this profession. I have been through a couple of such encounters but was wise enough to sense the danger in time. It would start with an offer of a coffee at a well-known coffee shop and from there it would go further.
“After a couple of false starts a girl does come to know who is genuine and who is not. Once you realise you are being taken for a ride, then you have to just put your foot down.”
Besides being in danger of sexual exploitation, agents also entrap youngsters financially.
Though it is common for agents to get a commission for helping an artiste land a role in a daily soap, there have been instances where newcomers have been cheated of lakhs of rupees on the pretext of getting a ‘high profile’ assignment only to be disappointed in the end.
Industry veterans, however, claim that many a time the newbies set themselves up for a bad fall.
Garima Sharma, who was working with Star TV for a while and is now running a blog, mumbaimag.org, recalls an incident when she and four other Star TV colleagues were auditioning starlets for a new programme.
“One girl, who now is a big name on TV, told us, ‘I am willing to do anything to get this role’. Instead of us women if there had been five men on the panel, they could have easily taken advantage of such a blatant offer. I feel even girls need to know the rules and boundaries.”
Kamala has also taken rather embarrassing screen tests of some newbies. “Many a time when these young girls aged 16-17 years would come to our production house to audition we would feel like loaning them our own T-shirts or ‘dupattas’. They have this notion that wearing a miniscule dress or behaving in a suggestive way may land them work,” she elaborates.
Industry veterans feel young girls and boys have the freedom to decide where they want to draw the line
Yadav feels that it is the fear of being left behind that sometimes forces women to go down this road. The fact is that the industry is being flooded with young talent every year and the competition is tough.
The over ambitious want to reach the top fast and that has its pitfalls. “If one is talented, the work gets noticed and offers of better roles will definitely come in.
“Fast bucks and the desire to make it to the top quickly is a definite way of getting hoodwinked. If things don’t work out, go back home and wait for good opportunities,” she advises.
Of course, to tackle genuine complaints there are redress groups such as the Cine & TV Artists Association (CINTAA), which has been around for two decades now, and the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) where quick action is taken.
For instance, in March this year when Chennai-based SUN TV news anchor S. Akila was suspended after she complained of sexual harassment by her superiors, the NWMI called for Akila’s immediate reinstatement. An inquiry into the case has also been initiated.
Where there has been enough speculation on whether or not harassment, sexual or financial, is common in glamour-driven professions, television industry veterans believe that while “exploiters exist in all industries in TV it is not so bad. No girl can be forced into doing anything she doesn’t want to”.
Kamala, Anamika, and other female writers, directors, producers, who have been part of this world for decades, share their survival mantra: “There are bad elements in every profession. Young girls and boys have the freedom to decide where they want to draw the line.” - Women's Feature Service