The Casting Couch Is Real, Says ‘Parched’ Actress Surveen Chawla

‘Parched’ actress Surveen Chawla shares her story of finding recognition without giving into the casting couch. 

4 min read
Surveen Chawla shares horror stories of her casting couch experiences. (Photo courtesy: YouTube/<a href="">Ajay Devgn</a>)

The fearless and beautiful Surveen Chawla is getting rave reviews the world over for her role in Leena Yadav’s Parched, in which she plays the part of a rustic dancer and sex worker. It hasn’t been an easy journey for Surveen who started out 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 traumas she faced, including the dreaded casting couch.

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. 
Surveen Chawla, Actors

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.
Surveen Chawla

She admits it could be the nature of the roles Surveen plays of bold and unconventional women.

I don’t know if my screen image makes me look like an easy target. But I have 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 the 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.
Surveen Chawla

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 in an auto-rickshaw. 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.
Surveen Chawla

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 a wanton. But when I came to Mumbai I did all those things, and I didn’t think anyone had the right to call me that.
Surveen Chawla

Today Surveen looks back without anger at all her experiences.

I am grateful for every film that I did, and every TV serial that I was part of. I see them as stepping stones, as this amazing light, that now shines on my career after Parched
Surveen Chawla

Surveen is also being seen in Season 2 of the Anil Kapoor starrer series 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 would have stifled to death if I had continued doing Indian television. Indian soaps are regressive and repetitive. I agreed to do 24 because it is not a run-of-the-mill series. And it’s opposite Anil Kapoor.
Surveen Chawla

Surveen is currently looking forward to the release of Parched, where she stuns us with her performance 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.
Surveen Chawla
Surveen Chawla in a scene from Leena Yadav’s <i>Parched. </i>(Photo courtesy: YouTube/<a href="">Ajay Devgn</a>)
Surveen Chawla in a scene from Leena Yadav’s Parched. (Photo courtesy: YouTube/Ajay Devgn)

The role left Surveen scarred but satisfied.

All us actresses bonded beyond work. And the director Leena Yadav was 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’ faces, 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.
Surveen Chawla

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