Casting Couch syndrome in Tollywood!

Sri ReddySri Reddy (right) is a name not many people have probably heard of. Perhaps not even those who have seen her in some Telugu films. But over the last week, she seems to have garnered instant recognition, an honour that eluded her in the seven years she claims to have been in showbiz.

Sri Reddy is a regular on many Telugu TV channels and social media portals for speaking boldly on a taboo subject that has been prevalent for a long time – the casting couch syndrome. It’s a reality no one dares admit to.

The Telugu film industry has always worn the holier than thou mantle with ease. But struggling starlet Sri Reddy, aka Alekhya, is now leaving no stone unturned to expose the ugly face of the industry.

Sri Reddy and Ali

In an echo of Hollywood’s #MeToo movement, Sri Reddy has made startling revelations on the ‘Casting Couch’ system in the South Indian film industry. Her barbs are aimed mainly at film directors, producers and coordinators who exploit the desperation in aspiring artistes and make indecent proposals.

Sri ReddyShe makes no bones about the lengths she had to go in her struggles to land a role.

‘Compromise and Cooperation’

According to Sri Reddy, these two words mean the same — they are euphemisms for a willingness to concede to the sexual favours sought by the power brokers for a bit role. And Sri Reddy unabashedly claims to have yielded to these ‘requests’. She also said the girls have to satisfy everyone on the sets — from the director to the cameraman.

The outcome, however, according to her, after the steam has evaporated, amounts to nothing. The promised roles still remain elusive.

A Telugu TV channel during a panel discussion on this subject, in which the actor also participated, made public a photo it procured during a sting operation on her. Though the image was deliberately blurred, it showed her in an intimate pose with a bearded man from the industry. Sri Reddy admits it was she in that photo!

Struggling artistes, she says, have to suffer these indignities to make a living in the industry. While some are willing to shed all inhibitions and reservations,others latch on to a rich boyfriend or are even willing to enter into a relationship with married men just to be able to buy expensive clothes or pay off EMIs for their car loans or house mortgage.

Reddy finds fault with filmmakers who look to girls from the north or other southern states and turn a blind eye to Telugu artistes. Not one movie is made with a Telugu actress in the lead role. And this is her real fight. She questions top Telugu hero Pawan Kalyan, who has been spearheading the campaign for Special Status for Andhra Pradesh, on why he doesn’t encourage Telugu actresses in his movies. Why does Pawan Kalyan always choose heroines like Samantha, Tamanna, Praneetha or Kajol — all non-Telugu actors — but never a Telugu girl.

Sri Reddy, who started her career as a news reader and anchor at NTV and Sakshi TV, says she didn’t want to remain a ‘frog in a well’ and ‘wanted to flow like a river’ and move to the glamour world. She made forays into modelling and in a natural progression tapped the doors of Telugu cinema. She realised it wasn’t a cakewalk .

Sri Reddy

She is unrepentant about yielding to casting couch demands in her struggle to achieve her goal and justifies it saying even Bollywood actor Kangana Ranaut had once washed the dishes in a hotel.

She quotes another Bollywood actor Ileana D’cruz, who has acted with several top Telugu heroes such as Mahesh Babu, NTR Jr and Prabhas, as having said, ‘It might sound cowardly, but I do agree that if one speaks out on the casting couchsystem, it will end their career. Years ago, a junior artiste down South, who was being propositioned by a big producer, sought my advice on how to deal with it.’

Is a movie career her only option? Sri Reddy says she can’t think of anything else ‘just like a student who had been preparing for engineering can’t change mid-way to pursue a career in medicine’.

Refuting the suggestion that she is doing this for cheap publicity or instant fame, Sri Reddy urges other girls with similar stories to come forward and start a #MeToo movement in the Telugu film industry.

But a couple of Telugu expatriates Gulf News spoke to, expressed their indignation at the sorry state of the south Indian film industry. S S Raju, sales director at a leading insurance company in Dubai, said: As the second biggest film industry in India, which attracts talent from all over the country, particularly from North and other southern States like Kerala and Karnataka, the competition [in Telugu cinema] can be fierce. It is an open secret that casting couch exploitation is rampant in the film industry, due the glamour of stardom and money involved. However, culturally, the people of Andhra respect women and give them an exalted status. With true talent, actresses in Tollywood enjoy the status of demi-gods. To paint the whole industry as lecherous is wrong.”

Srinivas RajaSimiliarly, Srinivas Raja (right) from Abu Dhabi feels “Telugu film industry is known for its ethics and for respect to women artists over the several decades. Especially, yesteryear actresses such as Anjali Devi, Bhanumati, Savitri and Jamuna; and later Jayaprada, Jayasudha and Sridevi have received utmost respect and support all through their acting career. However, the reported incidents are letting down the human values in general and Telugu film fraternity in particular. This needs to be addressed soon to get restore the charm to Telugu film industry.”

Pruthviraj CherukuriPruthviraj Cherukuri (right), president of Telugu Kala Sravanthi, Abu Dhabi, is pained at the developments back home. Cherukuri, who invited Sri Reddy along with Telugu comedian Ali for a 2014 event to celebrate Ugadi, the Telugu new year in Abu Dhabi, says there is no dearth of talent in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, “but directors, producers and top heros prefer girls from Mumbai or Kerala and Chennai who can’t speak the language or emote the feelings properly”. He says a total check to this trend will help restore dignity to the Telugu film industry.

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Nagarjuna Rao


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