She further adds that producers approach them with examples of stars like Radhika Apte and others who have shot for scenes with partial nudity in shows on big platforms like Netflix. “I would turn around and tell them that they are paid in lakhs for those scenes and here we don’t get money and are getting penalised from all sides. We are just acting and performing in those scenes”. Zoya was paid Rs 20,000 per day for her appearances in erotic films.
Zoya hails from Nagpur and first came to Mumbai when she landed a BPO job in 2004. She has acted in shows like ‘Saubhagyawati Bhava’, ‘Bade Achche Lagte Hain’ and ‘Fear Files’. Like most newcomers in the film industry, Zoya, too, was misguided by fly-by-night producers and often asked to compromise if she needed a good break. Recalling the time, she says, “People misguide you, and the term ‘compromise’ is definitely used a lot. Most of the newcomers who come to Mumbai to become actors don’t know who real film producers are and they often get conned. I came across one such person who lied to me that I had been shortlisted for a role in a film which was being headlined by Emraan Hashmi and Kangana Ranaut. The producer told me I will have one scene with Emraan but compromise karna padega (I’ll have to compromise). At times, I was told to spend time with the producer. I did not compromise and I was confident as an actor, so, I started working in small films in which I didn’t need to compromise, although even these films had bold scenes. Those films were censored at the time when Sharmila Tagore was the CBFC chairperson and released with an ‘A’ certificate”.
Zoya also fell victim to a publicity stunt by one of the producers of her films, who used raw clips of some intimate scenes from the movie and put them out as an MMS. That, in turn, got her labelled as a porn actor. “It was a huge setback for me in real life. My personal life got affected as my fiancé got upset with me. I also went to the cyber cell to complain about it when the producer refused to accept that he had done it,” she sighs. The actress then stopped working in bold films. Now, a single mother who lives with her mother in Vasai, Zoya took a break from acting altogether. “I was not getting work in mainstream movies and most of the time we were made to sit the whole day with excuses fed to us like there’s a friendly appearance by Akshay Kumar in the film, or it’s Radhika Apte’s production, but nothing happens beyond that. I stay in Vasai and for me to travel to studios in Andheri every day is really taxing and expensive”.
After the first lockdown eased last year, the making of bold ‘web series’ registered an upsurge. That was when Mukesh Agarwal, a filmmaker, got in touch with Zoya. “He tracked me down and told me that I have a good body of work and I should return to work. He promised I would get good pay. Initially, I was reluctant but after he shared some music videos, which featured girls in bikinis, I agreed to do it.”
Zoya was in for a shock as the project offered to her was bolder than what she had done in the past. She said, “It was being produced by Yash Thakur, who apparently lives in Singapore and is not accessible to anyone. But he is the one who has made maximum bold content. I was also offered work by another company, Hothit, who offered payments depending upon what kind of boldness I showed while shooting for their film, and had proper papers which stated that they will not ask me to do anything that I am not comfortable doing. They are the first ones to go to jail”.
Zoya hasn’t met or spoken to Raj Kundra but said that Umesh Kamat from his office called and claimed that he was managing HotShots. “He told me that he wanted to give me a big break but with the rider that I would have to give a nude audition on a video call which I refused to do,” she recalls, adding, “I have never spoken to Raj Kundra but Umesh Kamat was in touch with me trying to convince me to work with Hotshot just two days before he got arrested. But there was another man named Roy who called me from Singapore and said that he wanted a nude audition. He had dropped HotShot’s name too”.
Zoya said that everyone would paint a rosy picture of Raj Kundra’s image as a big businessman and his connection to Bollywood. “I didn’t know what the whole game was but I had heard from some people that he wanted to make the porn industry as big as Bollywood. We artistes were just pawns for this big game and someone like me gets tagged as a porn star,” she rues.
The erotica industry is just as unkind to men. Zoya adds, “Boys are also exploited in this business. Those who are uncomfortable showing off their bodies lose out to those who are ready to go nude for the show. There are boys who come from theatre and are good actors and have worked in good serials. They are told that if they don’t remove their underwear and don’t show their entire back they will not be given work. The boys are asked for normal auditions on the phone and told that regular bold content will be shot and the budget will be Rs 5000 per day. But once they are on set, they are told that if they are ready to perform real sex, their budget will go up to Rs 15000 and promised that they will become big stars as the porn industry is booming. That is how they motivate them to perform real sex”.
Zoya is happy that the censorship guidelines are being put into place and OTT content is slowly getting regulated. She’s glad there is a cap on bold content too. She adds, “My payment has reduced to half of what I got paid but I am happy to work in this new environment and I am much relaxed now. I am happy that humein ab bikini se aage kuch nahi utarna padta hai (I am glad that we don’t have to undress beyond a bikini now)”.