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Casting couch shadow on Marathi actor

Mumbai/Pune, Dec. 26: A 17-year-old aspiring starlet has filed a sexual assault and attempt to rape complaint against a prominent Marathi actor and a little-known director, throwing the shadow of the casting couch on the Marathi film industry.

The girl has alleged that Ramesh Bhatkar sought sexual favours from her in his house at Kothrud in Pune and that director Ravi Naidu allegedly lured her to his Pune farmhouse and raped her.

In a complaint filed late last night with Wanowrie police in Pune, the girl claimed Ramesh had told her she would have to “compromise” to get anywhere in movies but let her go after she raised an alarm.

Ramesh, the husband of judge Mridula Bhatkar who was presiding over the Mumbai train blasts case till last week, has been booked for sexual assault under IPC Section 354. Naidu has been booked for rape and is absconding.

The girl has also named her uncle Dilip Kavre and aunt Jayshree in the complaint, claiming they took her to Naidu after her secondary school exams in March. They apparently promised her he would give her a break in films.

The girl alleged Naidu took her to Hyderabad and Mumbai and kept her in confinement there. She has also named Congress politician Bhagwan Vairat and Pune resident Ashok Londhe in her complaint.

Pune police said they had begun investigations and launched a search for Naidu. Ramesh has not been questioned yet. The duo as well as the girl’s uncle and aunt were today granted anticipatory bail by a Pune court till January 5.

Ramesh, who has played the lead in many Marathi films and in TV serial Commander, today denied the allegations. “The allegations are false. I don’t know who’s doing it and why he’s doing it. These are pure lies,” he said.

The actor’s name had cropped up in a bizarre controversy relating to the train blasts case. All the 13 accused had demanded that the case be transferred to another judge as Mridula was “influenced” by Ramesh’s purported links with Chhota Rajan.

Last week, Mridula was transferred to Kolhapur on promotion as additional sessions judge. Earlier, she was a special judge of the MCOCA court.

The allegations against Ramesh have rattled the Marathi film world. Marathi film federation president Ajay Sarpotdar said: “Unlike the Hindi film industry, the Marathi film industry does not have the culture of casting couches. This has affected the credibility of the industry.”

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