Tollywood’s worst kept secret came out when a struggling actress, Sri Reddy, opened up about the existence of the casting couch and the instances of sexual harassment and misconduct that are rampant in the thriving Telugu film industry. Several reports, counter statements and a semi-nude protest followed with all eyes on Hyderabad’s film circles. Was Tollywood on the cusp of a #MeToo movement? It could have been. The momentum died after actor-politician Pawan Kalyan’s name came up in the scandal.
The truth about sexual exploitation in the film industry reared its ugly head again after the US investigating agencies busted an international prostitution racket run by a couple of Indian origin in Chicago. The news of Kishan and his wife Chandra Kala Modugumudi’s organized prostitution racket in the US has, however, shocked no one in the industry. It has been long known that many actresses and female singers, who go to the US on the pretext of attending events organized by Telugu associations, often get involved in prostitution.
The Mode Of Operation
The couple were Hyderabad-based before they moved to the US. Kishan Modugumudi had co-produced several Telugu films and after shifting to the US, they maintained their contacts with the secretaries and managers of the stars and film journalists. It has been reported that they have been running the operation for the last four to five years.
Here’s how the case was cracked:
1. An actress travelled from Hyderabad to Chicago to attend an event organized by the Telugu Association of South California in November 2017. She was issued a visa in Delhi.
2. What raised suspicion was that the actress arrived two days after the scheduled date of the event and took a flight to Chicago instead of the said location.
3. The authorities began enquiries. The actress informed that she was attending an event hosted by North America Telugu Society. The investigators found her information to be false after the organization denied having sent her an invitation to the event.
4. Soon her visa was revoked and the name of the person who organized her trip, a certain Raju, came up.
The authorities found another case, around the same time, of another actress coming to the US on a trip organized by a certain Raju a.k.a Kishan Modugumudi. Towards the end of 2017, names of six actresses involved in the prostitution ring emerged, with one being a well-known star, who has worked in Telugu and Tamil hit films. She was said to have been invited by the American Telugu Association. In fact, information on the actresses’ visits were circulated and interested clients were informed beforehand.
The involvement of the actresses
Silverscreen spoke to several industry insiders and found out that the actresses were aware of what they were getting into. They agreed to be a part of it to make a quick buck.
A source in the know reveals, “An actress who has seen some level of popularity generally charges anywhere between $4,000 and $5,000 for two hours. There’s no force. In fact, just as an event is about to happen, the actress’s trip is planned in such a way to facilitate these activities.”
The rates for television artistes and singers are fixed between $1,000-$2,000 for around two hours. These rates are adjusted depending on the popularity of the actresses, our source tells us.
But there’s a premium package too that comes with star actresses. “Since they are stars, they are very choosy about the people they get involved with. And with them, it’s not an hourly package. The plan involves the actress hanging out with the clients, attending events with them and even socializing if needed,” the source tells us, explaining that considering they are big stars, there’s be no suspicion since they have a lavish lifestyle with several people involved anyway.
Another source, who has seen the process from close quarters, says, “The couple is the mastermind behind the racket. Not only do they lure prospective clients but they also mediate between them and the actresses to arrive at a final price. In return for being the liaisons, they are generally paid a commission of anywhere between 10-20 per cent depending on the popularity of the actress. Star actresses do not pay them any commission and they charge the client in such cases.”
The middlemen are also responsible for scheduling such trips where they book tickets, prepare a new actress for visa interviews and immigration checks, bargain and get the best price and, of course, have a list of all possible future clients, keep logs and listing dates, almost similar to a doctor’s appointment book.
While several known names involved in the racket have cropped up, Silverscreen opts to withhold the names as there is no official word on them. No one from Tollywood has issued any statements, but the president of Movie Artiste Association (MAA), Sivaji Raja had recently said that the association was in touch with the leaders of organisations like the Telugu Association of North America (TANA) and American Telugu Association (ATA) so that the safety of the actresses are ensured.
“Whoever wants to go to the US to participate in private events, should inform the MAA before leaving. We will guide artistes and verify if the event being organised is real or fake,” he said.