The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Casting couch divide runs deep

Mumbai, March 14: Bollywood is divided on how to deal with a controversy that has brought the glare back on the so-called casting couch.

An industry body has imposed a largely symbolic ban on actor Shakti Kapoor today following a television sting operation in which he has been portrayed as seeking sexual favours from a reporter who posed as an aspiring actor.

The TV clippings also showed Kapoor claiming that the 'casting couch' is a phenomenon familiar to several leading producers, directors and actors.

The Film and TV Producers' Guild of India today condemned 'the slanderous, mischievous and unsubstantiated aspersions' cast by Kapoor on 'Bollywood personalities' and called for a ban on him.

In a statement, the guild, headed by Amit Khanna, said: 'Kapoor has been completely irresponsible in his behaviour and utterances and must publicly apologise to all those whom he has insulted and slandered. The guild is advising its members not to engage Shakti Kapoor in any work in any of their productions.'

Of the four main associations of producers, the guild is among the two most powerful. Filmmaker Yash Chopra, against whom references were made in the clippings, is a member of the guild.

The ban would have had some impact had it been imposed on an upcoming actor. However, industry watchers said, as Kapoor's career is almost over, it will hardly affect him.

But not all associations are advocating the harsh line. The Association of Motion Picture and TV Programme Producers, which is as powerful as the guild, has decided not to impose a ban.

'We would impose a ban on him if he was found guilty,' said Pehlaj Nihlani, the president of the association. 'But it is yet to be proved whether the reported observations by Kapoor were doctored or not. Besides, he has said sorry.'

'Kapoor has stained the names of some of the industry people. But he has been framed. The reporter booked the room and offered him alcohol. He was being invited to say wrong things,' Nihlani said. 'The way the meeting was set up makes the media equally guilty,' Nihlani said.

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt agreed that boycotting Kapoor would be too extreme a measure.

'The casting couch is a reality. It is a power thing, to which vulnerable girls who want to join the industry fall prey to,' he said.

'But while I condemn Shakti Kapoor's attempt to use his position to sexually exploit a woman, I feel that ostracising a person never works.'

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