By: Subhash K. Jha, IndiaFM
Monday, September 18, 2006
He sure knows his mind as well as his body. "Here's what I want....I want every one, man or woman, to want to sleep with me," says model-turned-actor Upen Patel, thereby mouthing the inner-most fantasy of every wannabe I've known.
Why does everyone, man or woman, from Jhumri Talaiya to Nasik want to be a star? To be a source of the nation's collective fantasy, of course!
I remember how a fairly successful leading lady of the 1990s, now 'happily' married, had shocked me by saying, "Of course I know guys jerk off in the theatre while watching me. I don't mind. I'd get worried the day they stop doing that."
Her uproarious laughter still rings in my ears as I hear all these tall tales from the casting couch and how young wannabes of both sexes are exploited by big producers.
"Such bunk," says the 24-year old new kid on the block Sammir Dattani . "No one can force anyone to sleep. In the beginning I've had a couple of producers look queerly at me. One of them even offered to take me to Goa for a holiday. I looked at him with my most childlike expression and said, 'But I only go for holidays with my parents.' He never asked again. One female producer kept making embarrassing comments about my hair, eyes , dimples, etc Before she could proceed down I started calling her Aunty. She stopped. It all depends on what the newcomer wants and how he or she wants to get it. I never had to think of movies as my rozi-roti. I've heard hair-raising stories of exploitation that helpless strugglers have to go through. But I repeat, no one can force anyone on the couch."
Nakul Vaid, the talented young actor from Ab Tak Chappan, agrees. "Of course no one can force you to sleep with them. On the contrary I've seen with my own eyes how female newcomers throw themselves on producers. It would take a man of enormous will -power to say no when he's forced to say yes."
Once not too long ago when Mallika Sherawat used to be a friend. She urged me to set up a meeting with a super-successful filmmaker. "But Mallika, he has a reputation of taking the ladies' clothes off with his eyes," I reasoned. "Oh good, when he does it to me he'll at least see a good body underneath," came the prompt and unabashed reply.
Whenever I'm told about the dukhiyaree newcomer lying helplessly on the couch, I narrate this incident.
Nakul Vaid in fact gives blood curdling incidents of sexual exploitation at lower levels of the stardom ladder. "Touts and middle-men are prime offenders. They lure hapless newcomers with promises of meetings with big filmmakers...meetings mind you, not roles. Just meeting a Ram Gopal Varma or a Sanjay Leela Bhansali is an impossible dream for the wannabes. With the temptation of just a meeting thrown at them they're willing to do anything. I've heard members of a top Khan's security service sleep with the fans of the star with the promise of introducing the star to them. A newcomer once told me how a marketing guy asked him to sleep with him. I asked him how he could do it when he was straight. 'I just pretended he was a girl and went ahead,' he said to me."
Trouble is, today ambition far out-runs any sense of morality. Why blame the couch? When newcomers are asked to sit on it they prefer to lie down. The myth of the exploited struggler is passe. Today's average wannabe knows exactly what he or she wants and how to get it.
Karan Johar still shivers when he recalls how close a newcomer got to him when he allowed him in his office for a meeting. The male wannabe first produced his pictures, then offered to do "anything....anything at all" to get a role.
"That's when I realized what his intentions were. I'd have fled. But it was my office. So I asked the guy to leave instead."
Aaj ki taaza khabar... no one acts fresh with newcomers any longer. The screws on the couch are all in place.