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Surveen Chawla: Yes The Casting Couch Exists

Subhash K . Jha

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Surveen Chawla,

The  pretty and fearless Suveen Chawla is getting raves the worldover for her role of a rustic dancer-sex worker on Leena Yadav’s Parched.

It hasn’t been an easy journey for Surveen who started with a small Kannada film 9 years ago.

“Tamil, Telugu , Kannada, Punjabi…I’ve done them all,” Surveen laughs, the joy of finally overcoming her period of struggle overriding the trauma that she faced, including, yes, the dreaded casting couch.

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“I was propositioned, though luckily I had the strength to turn down the offer to be ‘nice’ to the director  even if it meant losing a plum role,” sighs Surveen.

Strangely the offer came from the South. “I guess I’ve been lucky to meet the right kind of people in Bollywood . I’ve never faced such sleazy offers in the Hindi  film industry. Maybe I’ve been smart in  my dealings, making sure no one gets the wrong signal.This happened in Tamil cinema where I had already auditioned and bagged an important role. This was a very big film and a very important director who couldn’t speak Hindi. So can you believe the man’s audacity! The director had his friend call and make the offer for me to sleep with the director. The friend told me it would only be  until the film was made.I said, thanks but no thanks.”

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She admits it could be the nature of the roles Surveen plays of bold unconventional women. “I don’t know if my screen image makes me seen as an easy target. But I’ve to say I was offered  a whole lot of supposedly bold and sexy roles after I did Hate Story 2. This industry slots and tags you.I guess it was the reputation of the franchise. I did nothing hot or sleazy in the film. There was a lot of sex in the first and third part. But mine was a revenge story.And yet after Hate Story I was flooded with cheesy salacious roles. I was labelled bold.I could have given in to the temptation of doing these roles.  It was money that I urgently needed to live in Mumbai.”

Away from her home in Chandigarh Surveen faced unending isolation and struggle in Mumbai during her initial years. “I was  staying as a paying guest where I was literally thrown out in the middle of the night because I used to return home at 2 am, and even later. I tried to explain I was shooting for my tv serials and had to return on anautorickshaw. But the landlady refused to listen. So I just left. It wasn’t easy to get my own place. I had no money, no help,  no one to cook for me. I couldn’t cook.I was alone and miserable and I missed home.”

Back home in Chandigarh she had her conservative parents worried about her. “When I was in Chandigarh I’d look at women in the metropolis who  smoked drank and partied as wanton. But when I came to Mumbai I did all those things, and I didn’t think anyone had the right to call me wanton.”

Today Surveen looks back without anger at all her experiences. “I am grateful for every film that I did and every tvserial that I was part of. I see them as stepping stones into this amazing light that now shines on my career afterParched.”

Surveen is also being seen in Season 2 of Anil Kapoor’s serial 24. She says she was hesitant about doing television at this stage of her career. “People said, oh you’re going back to television. But I don’t seen 24 as the average Indian soap. With due respect, I’d have stifled to death if I had contined doing Indian television. Indian soaps are regressive repetitive .I agreed to do 24 because it is not a run-of-the-mill series.And it’s opposite Anil Kapoor.”

Surveen is currently looking forward to the release of Parched where she is stunning as a sex worker.

She can’t stop being grateful to director Leena Yadav for giving her the role. “When I bagged the role of Bijli I saw it as an opportunity to move ahead in my career. It wasn’t an easy role to play. I play a nautanki dancer in a group that travels from one North Indian town to another. My job is to entertain men with my lowbrow dances and sex.I play the kind of woman wives dread  having around.”

The role left Surveen scarred but satisfied. “All  us actresses bonded beyond work. And the director Leena Yadavwas like a mother figure. It wasn’t easy playing this sleazy life. It reminded me of what my own career could have ended up being if I hadn’t  refused to compromise.Now when I see the look of pride on my parents’ face I forget the years of struggle when I didn’t know where my next meal would come from. Between 2009 and 2010  I was completely jobless. No offers came my way. But I held on. Parched has quenched my thirst for the right recognition.”

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