Tanushree Dutta has fired a powerful salvo but can Bollywood’s own #MeToo movement gain momentum, wonders Lita Chakraborty
The fat is in the fire and its spluttering ugly bits of lard are landing embarrassingly all over the superficial sparkling world of Bollywood. Actress Tanushree Dutta’s explosive admission of being allegedly sexually abused and intimidated by Nana Patekar, 10 years ago, has caused a huge uproar in Bollywood. Tales of sexual exploitation in the Hindi film industry that have eternally been swept under the carpet, are threatening to spill out. So, has Hollywood’s volatile #MeToo movement spread its powerful tentacles in Bollywood too?
Silence is golden
There is a ‘Bro’ code of silence in Bollywood. It’s like the saying: What happens in Bollywood, stays in Bollywood! Despite numerous nasty brouhahas in Mumbai’s film industry, these tales of abuse and intimidation have remained only whispered about. The men have almost never been called out.
Not long ago, Daisy Irani now 67 who was a popular child star in the ’50s spoke out about how she was raped by her mentor when she was just a six-year-old. She recalls in an interview, “It happened only once. I don’t remember anything, just pain and fear. I remember him saying, ‘If you tell anybody . . .’
What’s more shocking is that Daisy goes on to narrate that she was abused by many men throughout her career as a child star. “Whoever felt they wanted to, would touch me… nobody cared to stop them.” The reason she says, she never spoke out at that point, was because she felt nobody would believe her.
Supermodel and celeb chef Padma Lakshmi recently spoke out about how she was molested as a seven-year-old and raped at the age of 16. Closer home, Kalki Koechlin vociferously spoke up about her traumatic experience of being sexually abused at the age of 9, only because she believed it would give other victims the courage to come out in the open and speak up.
The feisty Swara Bhasker also spoke up about her ugly encounter with the drunk director of her film. She narrated with a shudder, “He stalked me throughout. From constantly calling me to even asking me to go to his hotel room on the pretext of discussing a scene. During the first week itself, he started talking about love and sex and one night, arrived in my room, drunk, and asked to be hugged. It was scary.”
Some time ago, there were hushed whispers that director Sajid Khan of Houseful fame had made a dirty proposition to one of his heroines. The actress rebuffed him rather rudely only to find that the scorned director snipped off her role in the film to the extent that she looked like an extra in it. She however refrained from making her name public.
Tanushree, on the other hand, decided to make her ordeal known to the world simply because she felt safe being out of the film industry now. Agreed, it has been a long decade but perhaps Tanushree needed just that closure to do this ‘tell-all’. Incidentally, she had spoken about this incident in her interviews before – however, she had never named her predator. This time, she hasn’t held back…
She says in her interview, “They called me a slut, an unprofessional… when I spoke about it 8 to 10 years back. When I tried to escape, they called the media, they called some people to mob lynch and attack my car. My parents were there inside and even I was inside, it was horrific.” She also reveals the harassment she, her father and spot boy had to face over the next couple of years.
Mumbai-based psychologist Ferzeen Firodi avers, “However much it is denied, the casting couch is a reality in Bollywood and other film industries. But the reason actresses and actors don’t speak up is because they know at the end of the day, the ‘bro’-code in the film industry is so strong that if they dare to speak to the media or make their ordeal known, the victim won’t get any work ever. No wonder, Tanushree, who has left the film industry, has dared to talk about the sordid happenings now.”
Actress Richa Chadda herself states that she would openly talk about the casting couch and the men who have propositioned her only if she is assured that she would be given work in the industry.
Actress Radhika Apte adds, “Some people are regarded as gods. They are so powerful that people just don’t think that their voice is going to matter. People think, ‘If I speak, my career will probably get ruined.’
Director Mahesh Bhatt agrees, He says, “I’m told by people that there are innumerable such characters here. But here in India, there is a lot of victim-blaming. If you have been propositioned, people will say you had it coming.”
Actress Chitrangada Singh reveals that she “made the choice over and over again to walk out of projects” because she was asked to compromise, But why didn’t she speak up? She says, “When you say you should come out and talk about your abusers and name them, yes that’s very courageous but what needs more courage is to be able to make a choice when you’re in that place.”
So, will the #MeToo movement spread in Bollywood? Actor Huma Qureshi is sceptical. She believes that before the movement can actually gain momentum, perceptions and mind-sets regarding women should change but until then, things will remain the same.
For now, with the likes of Sonam Kapoor, Anurag Kashyap, Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar, supporting Tanushree’s accusation and decrying the questioning of her intentions, a lot of B-town slimeballs must be a tad worried…