Sherlyn Chopra, Bollywood’s first actress to have made that bold crossover—she featured on the cover of Playboy magazine in 2012—talks to Giridhar Jha about the prevalence of the casting couch in the industry and how she managed to deal with it in her struggling days. Excerpts:
Exploitation of aspiring actresses is an open secret in Bollywood, but there has not been any open protest, like the recent #MeToo movement in Hollywood. What are the reasons for this?
There are Bollywood actresses who are fearless, and have no problem whatsoever in being whistleblowers. They are not coy when it comes to taking a stand to safeguard their best interests. Also, there is a growing awareness all over which underlines the fact that old, prejudiced and misaligned energy has no place in the new world where right to modesty, right to dignity, equality and justice are not just words written in our constitutions but new paradigms of everyday living.
So, do you think Bollywood actresses will raise their voices against exploitation? Do you see it happening anytime soon?
In the age of social media and smart phones, it is very difficult to get away with indecent proposals and disrespectful behaviour. The time has come for the old and prejudiced mindset to be replaced with the new energy, which is empowering and liberating. Filmmakers, or for that matter, anybody with a sexist and misogynistic mindset, cannot continue to be as protected as before.
You were quite young when you came to Bollywood. How has your experience been?
I wasn’t as aware earlier as I am today. I was a headless chicken as a newcomer with no sense of direction. But the early days helped me understand what I didn’t want.
Given your reputation as a ‘bold’ actress, did anyone try to take advantage of you? Were there any subtle or not-so-subtle innuendos from anyone when you were looking for roles?
I don’t follow up with filmmakers and casting directors who do not treat me respectfully. When I do not get positive vibes from them, I make no effort to keep in touch with them. I believe that my worthiness is not contingent on whether or not people desire and value me. That’s the truth that I feed my mind with. I also believe in being the creator of my reality. We were born not to face reality but to create reality. We are not puppets but creators.
What should an aspiring actress do to deal with the casting couch?
Aspiring actors and actresses should approach credible talent agencies and present themselves not as people desperate for the spotlight but as artistes who understand and respect their craft.
Are there any safeguards to protect such artistes? Are any of the associations doing anything?
The Cine & TV Artists Association (CINTAA), of which I’m a member, protects the rights of its members without any biases or prejudices. There are several whistleblowers who, through their vigilance, uphold the spirit of goodness, integrity and ethics in Bollywood.
How was the Playboy experience? What difference did you find between Bollywood and the West as far as attitudes towards working women are concerned?
Hugh and his team were highly professional. It was a sheer delight working with a team that consisted mostly of smart women. It was pure girl power on display. But Bollywood, I feel, is undoubtedly bolder than the West. Hollywood can never match our pelvic thrusts and dhak-dhak moves. What I like about Bollywood is its unbiased love for talent from different cultural backgrounds. It is as safe a workplace for women as any other corporate set-up.