No #MeToo in our film industry?

- September 27, 2018
| By : Revati Kulkarni |

Tanushree Dutta speaks up against Nana Patekar, only to be greeted by silence from Bollywood — unsurprisingly On September 25, model and TV show host Padma Lakshmi wrote an article in The New York Times about her sexual assault as a child and as a teenager, and why she’d kept quiet about both incidents for […]

Tanushree Dutta speaks up against Nana Patekar, only to be greeted by silence from Bollywood — unsurprisingly

On September 25, model and TV show host Padma Lakshmi wrote an article in The New York Times about her sexual assault as a child and as a teenager, and why she’d kept quiet about both incidents for 38 years. Following the recent #MeToo campaign in the United States and the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh—and criticism of the women who’ve claimed he assaulted them decades ago in college—Padma Lakshmi wrote, “there should be no time limit to telling the truth about sexual assault”.

Yesterday, India had its first instance of the #MeToo campaign from the world of Bollywood.

Actress Tanushree Dutta repeated an accusation she had made in 2008 against actor Nana Patekar. In 2008, Dutta had claimed that on the sets of Horn Ok Pleassss, Patekar had repeatedly touched her inappropriately during the shooting of a song. At the time, Dutta had given a number of interviews. These were followed by a press conference by Patekar, who claimed that she was like his daughter and these were false allegations. Dutta was kicked out of the film—and replaced by Rakhi Sawant—and was rarely, if ever, seen in a film after that.

This complaint wasn’t made by Dutta because of an affair gone wrong or because she wasn’t getting roles. This happened at the beginning of her career when the last thing she needed to do was ruffle feathers.

Now, I am no blind believer of every accusation any woman makes. Neither do I believe that every man who is accused is actually guilty. There must be some proof of allegations. But in this case, there is a witness: Janice Sequeira, who was a cub reporter with Headlines Today and Aaj Tak, was on the set that day in 2008. She noticed the mayhem, including thugs being called in by the producer to beat on the door of Dutta’s vanity bus, and who then broke her car’s windshield—all because she refused to carry on shooting with Patekar. Sequeira has gone on record with her statement and has no vested interest in this case. The bottomline is this is not a he-said-she-said incident.

The incident took place, the actress complained, she got cut out of the film industry—and the actor who molested her went on to act in multiple films alongside his superstar friends. That’s what happens when you complain against men in Bollywood or men in high places in different industries such as Tarun Tejpal, RK Pachauri and others. More often than not, the women get the boot and get slut-shamed.

But things are different today—or so one hopes. Thanks to social media, we can at least hope that the antisocial behaviour of men can be brought to the forefront. Sequeira posted her account of events on the set of Horn Ok Pleassss on Facebook and Twitter. In 2008, Twitter was a blip in our lives. There were barely any news channels and no news sites worth mentioning. Dutta’s claims were reported by some, Patekar’s press conference was attended—and all was forgotten.

I have to say it was heartening last night to see, despite the Aadhaar verdict understandably being the focus of news bulletins, that the three news channels I watched—India Today TV, CNN-News 18 and NDTV 24X7—covered the news in detail. Dutta was interviewed, Patekar was asked for a comment but was a no-show, and the incident received its due attention. Most newspapers carried the news and didn’t relegate it to the Entertainment pages. Although I thought it surprising that Mumbai Mirror carried all sorts of news today, other than this one.

Is this the beginning of India’s #MeToo movement in the world of entertainment? Well, it’s a start. Rumours abound about casting couches, although every Indian actress claims they’ve never been propositioned while entering the industry. This is the first time someone has named the person who has harassed them. Tisca Chopra had claimed she had been harassed but stopped short of naming the director.

When people ask why Dutta didn’t make these claims before—she did. And now when she’s doing so again, she has been accused of doing so for publicity. But I’m hazarding a guess that no right-thinking woman would want to be slut-shamed or fat-shamed and consider it good publicity. I have to commend Dutta for speaking calmly on channel after channel and putting herself out there to be vilified.

Whether the media will run with this story is doubtful, but I’d like to be proved wrong. At the end of the day, Dutta is small fry and frankly not even a bit player in Bollywood anymore, and Patekar—while having far more clout than her—is not an A-list superstar. The story simply doesn’t make for TRPs and eyeballs and will most probably be dropped after a day or two. At least, to give credit where due, journalists have come out in support of Dutta and have been tweeting the news and reporting it.

What is worth watching is whether anyone else, especially actresses from the film fraternity, will make a statement on the incident. Till now, mum’s the word. No male star has stuck his neck out, because why should they? At the Thugs Of Hindostan press conference, when asked about the incident, Amitabh Bachchan (who during Pink had even written a much-publicised letter to his grand-daughter about consent) said, “Neither am I Tanushree, nor am I Nana Patekar, so how can I comment on this?” A wondrous show of how indifferent Bollywood is to such charges.

It’s been two days now and even our vociferous female actresses from Kalki Koechlin to Kangana Ranaut to Konkona Sensharma have developed a deadly combination of bronchitis and paralysis. One would expect some solidarity from other actresses. (Swara Bhaskar is one of few to have commented on the issue on Twitter.) Not a verbal or written peep against the code of silence in Bollywood or male co-stars or producers and directors who assault or harass their female colleagues in the industry.

While I’m very proud that all these women raise their voice against political injustices in the country, maybe it’s time to raise their voice to support a colleague and call out injustices in their own industry. If we go by the silence of the starlets and stars in Bollywood, there is no nepotism, no casting couch and no pay disparity. The golden age of cinema is in India. Harvey Weinstein should relocate to India because it seems that Bollywood is peopled with the most virtuous of men and the most circumspect of women.

And that is why women like Tanushree Dutta are worth commending. Because they have nothing to gain from sticking their neck out and everything to lose. For once, I have to give it to the media that they ran the news in the first 24 hours. Too bad I can’t say the same for Bollywood and it’s dial-a-quote denizens.