Keeping mum on the matter will silence those who have been brave enough to share their horrific incidents. Let's not shun them, let's shun those who have tried to silence these brave individuals.
We are quick to point fingers at others when things go wrong. The recent allegation made by actress Tanushree Dutta on veteran actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment has not just opened a can of worms in Bollywood but also got everyone divided. While most of Bollywood is being criticised (and rightly so) for not taking a stand and maintaining a stoic silence over a matter that needs urgent attention, there is also a certain section which has been constantly doubting Tanushree Dutta’s intent tagging the entire episode as a publicity stunt.
The incident happened ten years back on the sets of ‘Horn Ok Pleasss’ – a film that had Patekar playing a lead role while Dutta was signed in for a special number. Dutta states that it was supposed to be a solo number and she had rehearsed for different steps prior to the actual day of the shoot. On the day of the shoot, Nana Patekar insisted on joining and suggested steps to her which made her uncomfortable. As she stormed out of the set and locked herself in the vanity van, Tanushree alleges that the producer, the actor and the director called goons from MNS to vandalize her car as she tried to leave the set with her parents.
10 years on, as Tanushree brought up the topic in context to the global #MeToo movement in a recent TV interview. Bollywood, in its true fashion, has decided to remain mum. Some of the prominent names of the film industry like Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan have evaded commenting on the issue. There are others like Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar and Sonam Kapoor who have come out in support of the actress and emphasised the importance to listen to her instead of questioning her intentions. And while Bollywood remains divided, the reactions from the common man have just highlighted the way our society functions.
Is it right to hold only the film industry accountable? Cases of sexual intimidation and harassment are not new to us. Neither is it just restricted to Bollywood. It is prevalent in workplaces and even homes. And it has always made us uncomfortable. Haven’t we all heard some serious cases of harassment and then brushed it under the carpet? So many such cases are never reported because of the fear of unpleasantness that comes along with it. So many times the victim is made to feel ashamed, questioned and cross-examined to an extent that he or she feels guilty and at fault.
I have heard of women leaving their secured job because of sexual intimidation from male colleagues. In most cases, they had complained to the HR but the company failed to take appropriate action and eventually it aggravated the problem making it difficult for them to work. In these cases, the companies failed the women.
Then there are horrid stories of abuse within families where a cousin or a relative would have made advances or even worse sexually exploited a child at a young age. In such cases, neither is the relative ostracised nor the victim. The victim is forced to co-exist with her offender. How are these cases any different from what Bollywood did to Tanushree?
We are all culprits and as a society, we all need to grow a spine.
Amitabh Bachchan’s reaction on the matter is exactly how most people would behave. Sure, the man could be a tad sensitive or used a bit of tact while addressing the matter- but Big B’s reaction resonates the way most of the society reacts to such cases. There is a general apathy towards victims. 'Since it doesn’t concern us, we won’t get involved in it' is a common form of reaction in such cases. Actor Shakti Kapoor even made a joke of the matter. When he was asked to comment on the issue, 66-year-old Kapoor cheekily said, "I don't know what happened 10 years ago, I was a kid back then." Laughing it off is perhaps the best way to evade the unpleasant question.
The fact that a young budding star with an abysmal body of work complained about an established National Award-winning actor also did not help the case. Tanushree Dutta was best known for her raunchy roles in films like 'Aashiq Banaya Aapne' and 'Chocolate'- and had dared to take on an actor of Nana Patekar's stature- who has had a shining career in films for over two decades and spotless track record. It was easy to believe the man and not the girl - because she could be doing this for 'publicity'.
Outside of Bollywood too, men, especially those in power yield an unspoken tyrannical rule over others making their mistakes blur. The film industry is no different. Here misogyny is at its peak. What Tanushree went through is not new, scores of women, with aspirations in their heart, come to Bollywood to become a part of the glamour world and so many of them have to retract after going through similar experiences.
As Renuka Shahane rightly pointed out in a Facebook post, "Whose career did this incident affect? None of the men had a difficult time. Their ego had won! The men got all the support that any industry ( not just the film industry) gives to powerful men. The only person who was traumatized was Tanushree. The scars have still not healed. Please do the math."
Would Tanushree Dutta's case gain this big a momentum if Farhan Akhtar and other prominent celebrities hadn't tweeted in her support? I doubt most of the media houses would pick up the story had journalist Janice Sequeira not corroborated Tanushree's story.
We all, media included, pay attention to those in power. It is human nature to listen to the people who have substantial influence over the society. We always tend to overlook those who may not be that influential or who do not have a say in things or perhaps do not enjoy the financial backing.
Actress Raveena Tandon points out, "What defines harassment in a workplace? The fact that many industry wives/girlfriends are silent observers or instigators, when actor husbands destroy the actresses careers after the chase and flirtation is over, have them replaced with other potential targets?(sic)" Raveena had tweeted.
What defines harassment in a workplace?The fact that many industry wives/girlfriends are silent observers or instigators, when actor husbands destroy the actresses careers after the chase and flirtation is over,have them replaced with other potential targets?
In a misogynistic society, women have to strive hard to make their voices heard. As a society, we need to listen. They may not be always speaking the truth, but that judgment can only be made after we hear all sides of the story. Turning a blind eye or keeping mum on grave issues will only encourage perpetrators more. Keeping mum on the matter will silence those who have been brave enough to share their horrific incidents. Let's not shun them, let's shun those who have tried to silence these brave individuals.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)
Shomini has written on entertainment and lifestyle for the most part of her career. While writing on cinema remains her first love, her other interest lies in topics like gender, society and Indian literature.