That the sex industry is situated at a hailing distance from the film industry seems to be the takeaway from last Sunday’s nabbing of Shweta Basu Prasad, a middling actress of the Indian film industry, from a posh hotel at Banjara Hills in Hyderabad, where she was pleasuring businessmen. While her debut won her national award as best child actor in a 2002 film, the actress tried her luck in regional films, where she did get work. The justification Basu Prasad has for her being in the flesh trade is none too different from the standard fare hookers reel off — that after bad career choices she was hard up and had to earn money by prostitution so as to support her family. Like any other industry, the film industry too recognises and rewards talent and hard work. It is hard to believe how she of Makdee fame could not find work. What particularly outrages one’s sense of good and bad, however, is the bit about her need for money “to support some good causes”. The kind of money she wanted for her keep and causes is reported to have been Rs 1 lakh a night.
There is a sad twist in the career of this actress and it is a moral twist. Her stated compulsions are facile. No amount of financial hardship need drive an actress already recognised for her talent to prostitution. Though prostitution per se is not a crime — only human trafficking and soliciting in public are — it can never be a valid livelihood choice; it has always met with revulsion in the core stream of public opinion despite calls for legalisation of prostitution in recent times. Advocates of legalisation argue women are victims caught as they are in the crossfire between demand and supply of sex. While a case can be made for a large section of prostitutes being helpless victims of complex circumstances, not all those who get into it are candidates for exoneration. Basu Prasad is not.
While she has not been thrown in jail, she has rightly been sent to a government rehabilitation home for three months, where she might get to reflect and repent. For the disgraced actress is not exactly repentant. She says she is not the only film actress plying the trade of high-society prostitution; many others like her roll down into it when they go through such phases in their career. Are we to read it as her bid at self-exculpation by comparison? Or it indeed is the seamy reality of the glamour industry? While career crafting by many a starlet is said to be fraught with the commonplace called casting couch, the insinuation of the actress-turned-prostitute is a shocker even if half of what she says of her sorority is true. The sex industry is portrayed in our films as entertaining even while it is held up as a cathartic aside on our gendered human condition. Films like Chandni Bar may be jazzed-up realism but who knows this ‘Banjara Hills’ Night is our neo-reality.