As Hollywood continues to be rocked by the impact of the #MeToo movement, Bollywood actresses are expressing disillusionment and disheartenment with the problem of sexual abuse in their own industry. Speaking with BBC reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan, Bollywood actresses explained that those who dare to speak out face shame, ostracization, and the possible loss of their careers for daring to shame powerful men who enjoy adoration and respect in a film industry that is considered a point of national pride for many Indians.
Speaking anonymously, a young actress who left her small village to pursue her Bollywood dream told the BBC that she endured sexual abuse from an influential casting agent who threatened to end her career before it started if she spoke out.
“He touched me wherever he wanted. He kissed me wherever he wanted and I was shocked. He put his hand inside my clothes, so I asked him to stop and he said: ‘You know what, if you really want to work in this industry I don’t think you’ve got the right attitude,’” she recalled.
Speaking out publicly for the first time, actress Usha Jadhav shared her own #MeToo moment with Vaidyanathan.
“He just said to me bluntly, ‘I need a sexual relationship with you.’ I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Then I’m not going to cast you in my films.’ And on top of that he cursed me, said, ‘You’re not going to get any good roles and nothing good will ever happen for you.’ I was like, ‘I don’t think you have that much power,’” said Jadhav.
Radhika Apte, one of the few high-profile Bollywood actresses who have spoken out against what she described as a casting couch culture, said that she understood all too well why so few women dare to speak out.
“Some people are regarded as gods,” Apte explained. “They are so powerful that people just don’t think that my voice is going to matter. People think, ‘If I speak, my career will probably get ruined.’”
Asked about the #MeToo movement in the U.S., Apte hailed it as groundbreaking, noting that actors male and female alike had rallied in support of their colleagues. Men in Bollywood, she said, had provided no such reassurances.
“[I loved] the way the women, and the men, of course, came together and decided that as a team we’re not going to let this happen,” said Apte. “I wish that could happen here.”
Watch BBC’s coverage of the story below.