Hyderabad: The recent strip protest of actress Sri Reddy brought into sharp focus the role of the casting couch in Tollywood. The issue of sexual harassment once again came to the fore and this time in relation to the Telugu Film Industry. Highlighting the problems that several women artistes face in Tollywood, a women's organisations joint action committee held a meeting on "Sexual and Financial Assault in Telugu Film Industry" here yesterday.

The meet was attended by actresses Sri Reddy, Apoorva, character artistes Sunita Reddy, Sandhya Naidu and Hema. Apart from film actresses, representatives from women's organisation, Sandhya, Devi, lawyers, writers and women journalists were also part of the discussion. All of them stated that they would fight till sexual harassment in film industry was brought to a stop. They called upon the high and mighty of the industry to come forward and speak against the issue of sexual harassment of women. If this not done, they threatened to spell out the names of all the people involved in sexual harassment of actresses.

A number of artistes talked about their experiences at the meeting. Actress Apoorva said that the industry leaders were not bothered about women artistes not being paid minimum wages. The brokers would take a major share of the payment. She alleged that none was bothered about the problems of the women artistes in the film industry. A man, old enough to be her grandfather, would like to exploit her sexually, she said.

Similarly, character artiste Sunitha Reddy said that they had no avenue of redressal for their problems. The middle-men were like parasites eating off our earnings, she said and wished that at least Telangana CM KCR would respond positively and set a grievance redressal mechanism in place.

Shruti, a character artiste in Telugu films, said that there was a need for an open debate on this subject. She called for the participation of Tollywood leaders in this, as well.

Progressive Organisation for Women chief Sandhya said that they came to know about the level of harassment that women have to go through in the film industry after listening to the tales of some of these artistes. A committee needed to be set up to study the situation, she suggested. Sandhya said that there was a need to bring pressure on the government to find solutions to their problems. She suggested that the film industry must do away with the co-ordinator/middlemen/broker system.

Speaking to the media, Sri Reddy said if a lady artiste doesn't yield to the 'demands' of the industry they would not find opportunities again. There was no guarantee that even after being exploited thus, they would land roles, she said. The actress who protested topless against the sexual harassment in the film industry, said that many aspirants were being cheated in similar manner. "People were afraid to talk about this situation because they are sure that many skeletons would tumble out of the cupboard," she told the media.

It is said that artiste Hema had said that anybody who supports Sri Reddy who would not get roles in films. Sandhya Naidu, character artiste, said that every woman was subjected to harassment in the film industry. "On screen they give messages to society, and off screen they are animals who try to exploit women," she said. Even transgenders are not spared in this industry, dancer Chandramukhi added.