Paul Shah: The casting couch mindset prevalent in the Nepali entertainment industry is exposed again

The image is for representation only.

Casting couch‘ is an infamous phrase that is associated with the movie industry. But, many in the industry believe that it is not just a word but a mindset. They believe that it is a mindset that gives the powerful and influential the belief that they can get away with almost anything, even sexual abuse. And, most who fall into this trap are new female artists who are looking to set themselves in the industry.

According to director Manoj Pandit, the casting couch in Nepal was trendy during the 90s and early 00s, when women who came with hopes of making a name for themselves in the industry were subjected to this.

“Back then, the society was very reserved. Going to the media was not a choice for them as a lot of incidents were hidden back,” says Pandit.

That is when producers, directors and actors took advantage of young prospective female actors promising them to get them roles in major films.

“Usually before casting someone, we took a screening test to see if they were fit for the role. But, people started to misuse this and took advantage of young vulnerable girls,” says Pandit.

As time passed, these incidents started to come to the surface. Fresh female actors started to call these people out and refused to succumb to abuse.

Despite that, people continued to take advantage of young women. It is not that people did not try to make others aware of this. Women tried to warn and raise awareness, but with no one supporting their claim, the issue time and again subsided. Them not getting support was due to fear. Many in the industry felt that if they spoke against this, their career would be over.

But, a young girl has decided to go against this norm as she has spoken out about what an esteemed actor allegedly did to her despite knowing that she was a minor at the time.

So if you look at it, Paul Shah, who has been accused of having sex with a minor, is just the tip of the iceberg as the industry is full of similar cases.

The unheroic heroism

File: Paul Shah
File: Paul Shah

An actor, mostly the protagonist, in the film industry is revered by the audience. They feel that such a person can do no wrong. But, that is limited to their reel life. The reality is completely different.

“These actors play the role of a good man in the movies, but only a few practise this type of behaviour in their real life,” claims Pandit. “Maybe that is a reason why in their real life, they play the role of the antagonists and do things like this.”

That is what defames the movie industry. Most of these actors rather than being idols want to show off and with the fans loving this, most feel they are untouchable.

The industry might look all good from the outside, but if you go ask a fresh-face actress, one will know how nasty the industry really is.

“Patriarchy is rooted deep in the industry and that is the root cause of women being abused,” says famed actress Rekha Thapa. “I’ve seen a few of these incidents myself.”

She says that a lot of her peers have come to her and shared how a certain actor or director or producer abused them.

“When I first heard this, I couldn’t believe it. But, now I believe every one of them,” she says.

Thapa says that there are so many cases like Paul Shah’s that it would shock people. But due to fear of being defamed, they refrain from speaking as the society will point the finger at the woman instead of the man and that is what is happening here.

“Many resisted the pain while many left the country,” says Thapa. 

Thapa says that there was an actress that impressed her a lot. But, due to constant abuse, she could not last in this sector.

Fandom and foolishness

Actress Puja Sharma and fans of Paul Shah gather in front of the Tanahun District Police Office, where Paul Shah is in custody for a rape charge investigation.
Actress Puja Sharma and fans of Paul Shah gather in front of the Tanahun District Police Office, where Paul Shah is in custody for a rape charge investigation.

Paul Shah, officially known as Purna Bikram Shah, is someone who has become a household name for the number of films and music videos he has acted in. As he has made a name for himself in the industry, he created a fanbase that idolises him.

His fandom can be seen from the number of people who throng the movie halls when his films get released. But, the same fanbase now is trying to create a different narrative and is accusing and trying to defame a young woman who has shown the courage to speak up against Shah and what he has done.

“I don’t think anyone should get away with such a crime even if the person is a superstar,” says famed actress Rekha Thapa. “Imagine what the young lady must be going through. Why can’t people understand that she is a minor? She needs our support.”

Nepal’s law categorises anyone below the age of 18 as a minor. It also states that a minor cannot defend themselves psychologically and emotionally.

 “This is why it’s the duty of the state and society to protect them. But, due to our society’s patriarchal mindset, it’s always a woman who gets blamed,” says advocate Radhika Khatiwada.

She says it is hard to see people, activists and actors come in defence of Paul Shah pointing the finger at the young girl.

“The man can’t control his urges, but it’s the woman who gets blamed. How is this fair,” she questions.

The support Paul Shah is getting is quite shocking given how the audio leaked out to the public shows how he played with the minor’s feelings and used her for his sexual desire. 

“It’s quite easy for young girls to get enticed. They don’t understand what is right and wrong,” says psychologist Karuna Kunwar.

The minor has said that Shah, using different reasons, abused her sexually. She also accuses Shah of physically abusing her during her travels. One audio clip also reveals Shah telling the minor that he will not marry her.

Apathetic authority

Film Development Board
File: Film Development Board

Even though the incidents like that of Paul Shah come to light time and again, the Film Development Board is usually mum about it. 

“We do hold discussions about these types of incidents, but most of these incidents take place secretly and we only get to know after it’s out in the public,” says Daya Ram Dahal, the chairperson of the board.

He says that the board has formed a code of conduct to maintain discipline. The code of conduct, he says, has mentioned ways to keep the actors in check to ensure the incidents like that involving Paul Shah do not happen in the future. The code of conduct has even been endorsed by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. 

“We hear a lot about sexual abuse cases. There are other similar cases too that needs addressing, and with the code of conduct we aim to do that,” says Dahal.

He says the code of conduct also addresses prominent stars taking advantage of young actresses along with the payment issue that is plaguing the industry.

“(After the Paul Shah incident), we will call everyone from the industry and inform them about this because everyone has to know how to behave professionally,” says Dahal.

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Mukhiya is a senior Onlinekhabar journalist.

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