A group of Telugu film actresses thought they would be traveling to the United States to appear at Indian conferences and events across the country. Instead, according to the Department of Homeland Security, they were being lured into a high-end prostitution ring.
Recently unsealed federal documents reveal that businessman and film producer Kishan Modugumudi and his wife Chandra are being investigated for bringing the women to the U.S. on temporary visas under false pretenses. They would then take the women to various events and “identify potential customers” for the actresses’ sexual services, according to the BBC. The men the Modugumudis identified would then allegedly pay between $450 to $2,500 for an encounter with the women.
The BBC reports that the couple has reportedly been investigated by Homeland Security since January of this year. They were arrested in April but have not yet entered a plea or commented on the accusations.
The Modugumudis were based in Chicago and the unsealed federal charges note that they would often force the actresses to stay in what the Chicago Tribune described as a “dingy, two-story apartment building” as they waited for their next appointments. The Modugumudis are also accused of taking the women to events to meet men in Dallas, New Jersey and Washington.
Since the arrests, the case has received widespread coverage in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where the Tollywood film industry is based. Longtime Tollywood observers noted that accusations of trafficking and rumors about the casting couch requirement have surrounded the industry for years.
“Women who come to the industry to build a career are lured by men with the offers of foreign trips,” one scriptwriter told BBC Telugu. “Though this has been happening for a long time, no-one wants to speak up because they fear that they will lose opportunities.”
A piece in Slate noted that traffickers often take advantage of the prospect of fame and steady work to entrap women and girls who aspire to be models and performers. The traffickers then force the women into encounters with men who “want to have what’s sold as a glamorous sexual experience.”
But while many victims are said to be afraid to speak out about the abuses in Tollywood for fear of retribution, women’s rights advocates and other activists are hoping that the media attention from this case will finally lead to a #MeToo-type reckoning in both Tollywood and the Indian film industry at large.
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