Sorry Shweta, we let you down

By Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times

Winning a National Award at the age of 11 is not a child’s play; neither is climbing the stairs of Bollywood stardom. Yet Shweta Basu Prasad, the young actor who was recently arrested on charges of running a prostitution racket, was keeping at it, one must say, with élan—playing roles in films directed by Vishal Bharadwaj, Nagesh Kukunoor and Ram Gopal Verma at quite young an age.

Shweta’s arrest at a posh hotel in Hyderabad’s Banjara Hills, her acceptance of prostitution charges, and the way in which media reports flourished on her life, leaves a lot to be reflected upon our society,  making it much more than just another celebrity sex-scandal.

As the news of her arrest flashed across TV screens and websites, Shweta’s life and her character, lay bare in front of millions of Indians, to be judged and passed comments on. Her photographs must have been then browsed through by millions and her sex appeal discussed.

Questions on why such a promising actress took to selling her body for sex, notwithstanding, the news of her arrest was sensationalised and readily lapped up. We know, from the press statement issued by the actor, dire financial constraints and wrong advice had led her to prostitution, but we don’t know, as of now, who were the high profile men, who paid to have sex with her.

Reports have come up scrutinising each and every aspect of Shweta’s life, including how in a certain sting operation she was found demanding money for sexual favours. According to the primary laws regulating prostitution in the country, the act itself is not criminalised but all other activities associated with it are. Yet, no news has come up about the rich men who exploited the young actor in need and had paid sex with her.

In the statement by the actor after her arrest that was quoted in a number of media reports, she said that she was compelled to take up prostitution with no other option left to lead her life. Had she said that she had gone into prostitution by free will, it would have been a different case altogether. But, the entire financial compulsion angle reveals to a great extent the kind of society we live in.  |

The young actor must have found no one to help her unconditionally, but many to take sexual advantage of her. Blame it on a patriarchal mindset or a male-dominated society, but the fact remains that someone who showed traces of immense talent right from the age of 11, ended up deciding to make a living by selling sex.  Rather than sensationalising, what we really need to know is how and why the actor chose such a path. What circumstances did actually compel her to do so.  Isn’t winning National Award and then delivering an acclaimed performance in a film like Iqbal, enough to guarantee a smooth Bollywood career?

The only thing that Shweta perhaps did wrong was to get too swayed by the jingling of coins. She might have forgotten to cut her coat according to the cloth. But then, we all make mistakes. May be the next time Shweta Basu Prasad creates a buzz, it will be for another National Award.


This piece was published on the Hindustan Times on September 6, 2014.