Why attack a ‘Makdee’… and spare the snakes?
I was really, really aghast to read the entirely unfair publicity given to a vulnerable young actress, driven to prostitution after experiencing abject failure in Bollywood, despite a promising start. And what a start it was! 11-year-old Shweta Basu Prasad won a National Film Award for Best Child Artist in 2002, for her performance in Vishal Bharadwaj’s film, ‘Makdee’. Twelve short years later, at age 23, the poor girl is splashed across national and regional newspapers after she was “ caught in a compromising situation” in a Hyderabad hotel.Arrested by the over-vigilant cops and packed off to a Rehabilitation Home, Shweta faces a minimum of ten days in custody while the cops frame a charge sheet. Effectively, her life and career are both over. And I fear for her safety. Going by the abysmal track record of how all such State run shelters and Homes function, with rampant sexual abuse, torture, starvation and worse, Shweta is likely to face a whole host of nasty problems while she is being ‘rehabilitated’ at government expense. Meanwhile, the media will sadistically pounce on the juicy story and torment her further… till the next scandal… and the next.
Shweta’s sordid experience in showbiz is not new or unique. There are thousands of Shwetas out there, struggling to survive in a heartless industry, which is more a meat packing factory than a provider of legitimate entertainment. The real tragedy of girls like Shweta kicks in after they taste early success, and then nothing happens. Buoyed by praise and misled by avaricious agents, they start dreaming big and expecting too much. Since image is everything these days, they often end up living way beyond their means, frequently borrowing money to subsidise their jumped up lifestyles. Movie business the world over functions in exactly the same way, when it comes to women. It works on a demand/supply principle. The supply always exceeds the demand. There are any number of alarmingly young girls waiting for a break and willing to go to any lengths to get it. Shweta had it better than most, having worked with established directors like Nagesh Kuknoor and Ram Gopal Varma. Despite such a huge advantage, Shweta, when she was busted in the staged raid, was broke and jobless. In her brave and upfront statement, she stated she had a family to support and was lured into prostitution by an agent who set her up with a Mumbai businessman.
Why pick on a comparative non-entity like Shweta, when there are hundreds of high profile, prominent, top bracket stars indulging in exactly the same ‘dhanda’? It’s an open secret in Bollywood as insiders snigger about the ‘rate cards’ doing the rounds. Some of the featured names would make most people roll over and die of shock! One wonders where Shweta went wrong. She blames her flop career to picking the wrong roles.A lot of actresses pick wrong roles, but not all of them become prostitutes. The problem is different. Bollywood refuses to acknowledge the levels of poverty and desperation that drive young aspirants ( male and female) to seek other avenues to pay their bills and stay alive. Some of these strugglers take to drugs and alcohol ( a brave admission by ‘Mary Kom’ Director Omung Kumar Bhandula, that his FTII trained father died an alcoholic after failing to get roles), and that path often leads to prostitution or…. suicide.
Shweta is a victim of a sting operation conducted by a Telugu television channel. She was easy bait. With no powerful patrons or backers, Shweta turned out to be just the thing a TRP- obsessed media organization could effortlessly exploit.But why have Shweta’s clients been shielded from media glare? Why aren’t they being named and shamed ? Why pick on Shweta? Her story got the cops what they were looking for – attention. And the channel got its eyeballs. Where does that leave Shweta? At the bottom of a pit… still poor… and now shunned as well. ‘Balu’, the pimp who booked her for a fee of one lakh a night (keeping 15k as his commission) allegedly assured her she wasn’t the only actress indulging in this racket, and several other actresses also free-lanced as prostitutes in order to keep body and soul together. This was Shweta’s third ‘assignment’ and possibly her last. At 23, her future is looking scarily dark and grim. If anything happens to this young woman , who will assume responsibility? The State? Bollywood? Society?
We need to take better care of the Shwetas we may know in our own lives. We certainly owe a desperate, hungry, young person that much.