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Indian TV Channel Finds Little Appetite for the Naked Truth

Sexual Exposis Bring Public Criticism, Not Acclaim

By Rama Lakshmi
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, April 19, 2005; Page A13

NEW DELHI -- In recent weeks, a new private television channel here has aired grainy hidden-camera footage of politicians having sex with call girls in hotel rooms, Hindu holy men sexually abusing female devotees and movie actors propositioning an undercover journalist and offering film roles in return.

The Indian public expressed outrage, not at public figures implicated but at India TV, the upstart channel that implicated them.

Filmed with a hidden camera, Indian actor Shakti Kapoor reportedly propositioned a journalist who posed as an aspiring movie actress. (Courtesy Of India TV)

Stars from Bollywood, as the Indian film industry is known, have denounced the reporting. So have government regulators. Newspapers have called the channel's exposés "a new low in journalism" and "televised entrapment," accusing its employees of being "peeping Toms."

"It is the desperation of the rating-crazed TV journalism. It is not investigative journalism but pornographic," S. Prasannarajan, deputy editor of the newsweekly India Today, said in an interview. "Competition does not mean that you have to compromise on ethics. It is an old trick, in the name of an exposé of pornography, you indulge in the same sleaze."

Sting journalism is not new to India. Five years ago, an operation by an online news site called Tehelka caught top politicians and army officers taking bribes from journalists posing as businessmen. It was widely praised as investigative journalism carried out in the public interest. Today, almost all television news channels in India routinely use spy cameras to expose corruption.

But in a society that remains more buttoned up than those in the United States or Europe, the Indian news media have been reluctant to report on the private lives of public figures. In the land that gave the world the Kama Sutra, the ancient guide to carnal relations, public displays of affection by couples are discouraged. Bollywood movies showed their first on-screen kiss only a decade ago, and television remains strictly controlled.

India TV's chief editor, Rajat Sharma, said in an interview that there was no violation of privacy in exposing such matters as political corruption or the trading of jobs for sex in Bollywood, a practice known in movie and theatrical business lore as the casting couch.

"If you are serious about exposing certain social evils, there is no other option but to use sting operations," said Sharma, who became well known a decade ago with a mock court show, where he doggedly focused on public figures. "Everybody knew that there is a casting couch in Bollywood, but the film industry refused to accept it. We merely showed them the mirror."

When a journalist posing as a struggling actress met actor Shakti Kapoor, a seasoned actor, he promised in the televised footage that his secretary would introduce her to movie producers and directors. But there was a quid pro quo.

"Come, don't be shy," Kapoor, who often plays the bad guy in movies, told the journalist in her dimly-lit Bombay hotel room. "I want to make love to you."

When she hesitated, he implied that it was common practice and named three reigning Bollywood actresses who he said had slept with movie directors to get to the top.

At a crowded news conference a day after the telecast, Kapoor defended himself: "If a girl invites me to her room, she is not calling me to a temple to pray," he said. "After all, God has made me healthy. Every part of my body is working."

On another episode shown four days after the exposé on Kapoor, the same journalist met Aman Varma, a popular actor in TV soap operas and on a singing competition that resembles the U.S. show "American Idol."

After some banter, which includes the woman saying, "hope you won't be naughty," he is shown leading her to his bedroom. According to TV India, he stopped at the bathroom and she took the opportunity to open the front door of the apartment, where a camera crew was waiting. They barged inside and demanded comment.

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