#MeToo Movement in Indian Entertainment Industry
As we all know, Bollywood of late is in a bit of upheaval and the grim reality of the ‘occupational hazards’ that women are forced to deal with in this industry are coming to the forefront slowly but steadily. Tanushree Dutta recently accused veteran star Nana Patekar of harassment on the sets of a film titled ‘Horn Ok Pleasss’. In another instance, she also went on to name director Vivek Agnihotri and accused him of misconduct and violation of dignity at a rather serious level on the sets of a film titled ‘Chocolate: Deep Dark Secret’. But no secrets here!
But that’s not all, acclaimed director Vikas Bahl who directed ‘Queen’ has been accused of sexual harassment and gross violation of conduct with a female colleague, of which the shocking details have been shared by her recently on a social media platform. The events took place a few years ago but are now re-surfacing as Phantom Films productions, a production house put together by Vikas Bahl, Madhu Mantena, Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap has been dissolved.
Novelist Chetan Bhagat was not spared too. In a recent accusation against the author, screenshots of a whatsapp chat emerged where he’s making an attempt to woo a woman.
Director and actor Rajat Kapoor also earlier today apologized on twitter, upon being accused of sexual harassment by two women. Reportedly, Rajat made the women uncomfortable by asking them inappropriate questions on the phone and this include a few ‘lewd’ texts too.
Comedian Utsav Chakraborty of AIB was accused of harassing women, asking them to send naked pictures of themselves. He too apologized on twitter. AIB distanced themselves from the comedian.
With the latest revelation by Tanushree Dutta, and by the support pouring in from the rest of the film industry, one wonders if this will turn out to be just another controversy which will eventually fade over a few weeks till something bigger takes its place or will it actually bring forth a much-needed change, not just for the women, but men too. The important development here is the fact that Tanushree named her supposed perpetrator. Let’s not forget an investigation will subsequently take place but by all means no one’s pronounced guilty yet.
What was interesting about Hollywood’s #metoo uprising was the fact that names were called out and women working in the industry mostly actresses, got the courage not just to talk about their mental and physical trauma, but more importantly to name their perpetrators. Would we see this in the case of Bollywood or the Indian film industry for that matter? The question – Are Indians brave enough to go one step beyond simply talking about their trauma, and actually name their perpetrator. A name makes all the difference.
Under the context of ‘doing something about it’, one does not have to approach the media and make their ordeal public, that’s not a norm. But a formal complaint to any relevant authority is definitely first priority. If the accused or accuser has even a bit of fame or fanfare, it will come to light sooner or later.
What made the #metoo movement such a revelation and allowed it to snowball was the likes of big names being called out. Post Harvey Weinstein renowned and revered stars like Kevin Spacey, Michael Douglas, Louis CK, Casey Affleck and many more came to the front with a few of them acknowledging their guilt. But would this be the case with the Indian film industry?
A lot of the biggies have chosen to stay away from commenting especially since the subsequent dynamics of their relations with other stars may be affected. Such is the state of ‘campism’ in Bollywood, a state one does not see elsewhere in other film industries across the globe.
While a few actresses in the past like Swara Bhaskar have been vocal about the reality of sexual harassment in Bollywood, and have gone on to narrate their ordeal, they still keep the names under wraps. Whether it is to protect their career and avoid unwarranted negative publicity, remains a personal prerogative. But then again, no name no shame.
Interestingly, most have us have forgotten, but Kangana Ranaut too recently named Aditya Pancholi as her ‘mentor turned tormentor’ on account of the physical & mental abuse she put up with. But it was only in September 2017 after many years that Kangana finally took his name at a book launch. At various instances in the past, Kangana mentioned her ordeal but refused to divulge a name and always referred to him as her ex-boyfriend. Definitely, it shows that mentioning names takes courage since the accused would deny any charges and would then proceed to send ‘legal notices’ to strongly make a case for their innocence.
In the past, a couple of stars had been accused of misconduct by their female counterparts.
Amongst the most shocking was the Jolly LLB director Subhash Kapoor’s case. In 2014, actress Geetika Tyagi released a sting operation video of sorts, where director Subhash admitted his guilt and confessed to molesting actress Geetika Tyagi, who even slapped him in front of his wife in the video. Subhash Kapoor was arrested a few weeks later.
The casting couch has not been restricted to women only. Men too face sexual harassment in lieu of attaining roles. One such case is that of acclaimed director Onir who’s in the past made several sensitive films like ‘My Brother Nikhil’ & ‘I Am’. But he too was accused of sexual misconduct by newcomer actor Yuvraj Parashar. Director Onir went on to clarify that whatever happened between them was mutual.
Let’s not forget in 2013, Suraj Pancholi too was named in a suicide note by Jiah Khan. The late star mentioned being tortured mentally in the hands of Suraj Pancholi. In Jan 2018 Suraj was charged with abetment of suicide by a sessions court.
A few cases came to the limelight but were not taken seriously given the fact that the accusers themselves were just out to seek attention in any form.
In 2011, TV & reality star Payal Rohatgi accused director Dibakar Banerjee of sexual misconduct. According to Rohatgi, the director behaved inappropriately with her at her home. However, the issue did not really garner any attention, in the long run, considering Payal Rohatgi herself has been known to be a bit of an attention seeker.
Telegu actress Sri Reddy protested sexual harassment in the southern film industry by stripping in a public space. But then again she’s been known to court unnecessary controversy in several instances.
One can’t forget the infamous Rakhi – Mika incident where Rakhi Sawant lashed out at the singer and then good friend for kissing her in public against her will. Such cases were never taken seriously, nor found any support amongst peers simply as they did not merit any truth.
Earlier this year, popular Bollywood singer Papon who hails from Assam accidentally went Facebook live, where he was seen forcibly kissing a minor participant of a reality show of which he was a jury.
Hope remains that the real incidents don’t fizzle out and more stars whether male or female come out and name their perpetrators. Stars at least have the advantage of people listening and their peers coming out to support them. Fans too make a big difference in swaying positive opinions. But stars aren’t the only victims in the industry here. Dancers, junior artists, foreign dancers, models, stylists, assistants, and various other support staff are constantly being sexually bullied at various levels throughout their career. And there’s no one to listen to them nor take their story forward. Dutta had the privilege of fame to garner support from willing peers.
The Indian version of this did have a slight uprising back in 2017 after the movement took off. Not just through the usage of the hashtag, but many Indian women too began speaking up and narrating their ordeals. Most of them shared shocking facts about being molested in crowded streets, in public transport, and in many instances by relatives and family members. The first wave of the Indian #metoo movement gave women the courage to come out and speak up. More importantly, the movement was not centered on just one industry but took a stand against all forms of sexual harassment against women, whether in a workplace or anywhere else. The themes of discussion were mostly where does one draw the line. What sort of behavior constitutes sexual harassment and what does not? The answer to which lies in sensitizing men and teaching them to be more responsible in their behavior especially while dealing with women. The Indian #metoo movement targeted not just sexual misconduct, but all forms of misogyny that women have to bear within all walks of life. Simply put, the movement began in Hollywood but moved far beyond.
To name and shame is the equivalent of placing a warning sign on the face of a sexual offender. It’s important to make sure others see those signs before stepping in. But when it comes to supporting, really just how good are a few tweets and FB posts by well-meaning peers? Will there be subsequent action taken within the fraternity? Will there be boycotts and cancellations of contracts like we saw in Hollywood post the ‘metoo’ movement? That’ll be interesting to see.