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How to make it in Bollywood, or die trying

It took a minute for Malhaar Rathod, then an aspiring teenage actress, to realise what the 65-year-old Indian film producer was asking her to do — and to make the decision to walk away.

“He claimed he had a part for me and then asked me to lift my top. I got so scared, I didn’t know what to do at first,” Rathod, now an up-and-coming television star, told AFP in Mumbai.

Her experience with what is euphemistically known as Bollywood’s “casting couch” culture underlines the challenges facing anyone seeking to break into India’s massive, insiders-only film industry, where the #MeToo movement has secured few wins.

After #MeToo triggered the downfall of top Hollywood powerbrokers like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, many women in Bollywood spoke up about their experience of sexual harassment, breaking a long-established culture of silence.

The Indian industry has largely looked the other way however and many of the alleged perpetrators have been able to revive their careers after lying low for a few months.

Movie-mad India is the world’s largest producer of films, with around 1,800 releases a year in multiple languages, easily dwarfing Hollywood’s output — but forging a career in the nepotistic industry can be a challenge.

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Unlike the children of celebrities who are groomed for stardom and tailor-made debuts, outsiders have to fend off lecherous men and contend with a gruelling routine of auditions and rejections.

– ‘Dream come true’ –

“It’s very difficult to crack Bollywood if you don’t have connections. No-one is going to offer you a launch, you have to do small parts and work your way up,” actor Paras Tthukral told AFP.

“I have done all kinds of jobs to survive. Worked in a call centre, in corporate gifting, marketing, you name it,” Tthukral, who moved to Mumbai in 2008 and has since appeared in two TV shows and a couple of films, added.

“An alternative career would have been easier for sure… but being an actor is a dream come true.” (Vanguard)

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