The Bollywood Actress As ProstituteS

In India, there's long been a myth of the "Bollywood Brothel" - the idea that all actresses are available for a price. The arrest of several Tollywood film stars has brought the idea back into circulation.

In the past year, 3 minor actresses have been busted for prostitution. It seems, at first glance, like an odd throwback to the days when the stage was a marginal profession and respectable women didn't pursue it. But, as XX's Amana Fontanella-Khan writes, it's still very much a complicated issue in India.

Demand for sex with actresses is very high in India, for a number of reasons. Indian actresses personify sexual liberation in a socially conservative country that places a high value on modesty and chastity. The gap between female sexuality and behavior on the Indian silver screen and in society is colossal. While in Indian films women are shown scantily dressed and gyrating to catchy pop numbers, their female counterparts in the audience wear modest salwar kameez-long tunics with baggy pajama bottoms-or matronly saris.

In addition, many a prostitute will pass herself off as an actress — with some pimps going so far as to make fake film ads to add to the womens' cachet and acting price. And as another actress tells Fontanella-Khan,

"A very old trick is that a pimp will approach you with a catalogue of famous Bollywood actresses and their prices. After the customer picks the actress he wants, the pimp will call at a very short notice and say the A-list actress of his choice is stuck in a shoot and will suggest an 'upcoming actress,' who is actually a prostitute, as a replacement." Those men then go away believing they actually could have slept with a famous actress, and this perpetuates the Bollywood brothel myth.

The women in question were, in fact, actresses. But stories like this probably perpetuate the stereotype to a disproportionate degree. It's also problematic in an industry with continuing ties to organized crime...chances are, there are people behind the women themselves who bear investigation. Then too, the public crackdowns on such high-profile cases might be called disingenuous when sex-trafficking and virtual slavery is tolerated by the same authorities. Zealous crackdowns on public figures make a show of prosecuting vice — while helping to perpetuate a culture that enables it.

Trafficking In Persons Report [USDS]
Do Bollywood Brothels Exist? [Slate XX]
Prostitution: A burning Issue In India Today [MerinNews]
'Bollywood' Produces Real-Life Drama [BBC]