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Bollywood Spotlight: How Far Should We Go With #MeToo?

Subhash K . Jha

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Thanks to one doughtly damsel in de-stress , Bollywood  and  India have found their MeToo voice. And about time too. I don’t know where this naming and shaming will stop. But predatory behaviour will now  be  very controlled, if not entirely extinct,  in work places.

If we talk about Bollywood –because that’s where the  revolution has hit the hardest—the  really  Big Guns  are  well protected from exposure. What we are exposing are the small fish, the  minor players in the  paradigm  of perversity. So okay,  Sajid Khan and Vikas Bahl are  not really small players  in the game. But they are not the actual movers and shakers.

The rot goes much deeper than them. Some of the most respected,revered and iconic names are the  biggest exploiters. And really, how far  down  the  road do you want to go to  dig out the dirt? It’s really up to  the MeToo movement to keep up its momentum. Because some  of  the most legendary names  revelled in sexual exploitation.

There was this Showman , one  of  Bollywood’s most  honoured filmmakers who  would sleep with all his heroines, would get drunk and slobber  over women’s  bosoms which he  affectionately called ‘duddhu’ .His cronies  smirked and  chuckled. You see they too had no choice. They had their careers  to think of.

Male  actors have considered  it  a matter of  entitlement  to do what they  like with women who work with them. A very prominent leading  lady of the 1960s tell me, “Of course  it happened. The bigger they were the  more  entitled they felt.”

By bigger she means  the heroes’ stardom. There was India’s dancing star, coincidentally the brother  of  the  ‘duddhu’- obsessed  hero we just spoke about, who was “extremely rough and crude with  the  heroines who didn’t oblige.”

 Or take  the  biggest hero of them all, India’s first superstar who had the  girls  across the country in a collective swoon. His behaviour with women was  so shocking and shameful  he would most certainly  qualify as  a prominent harasser in the current Me Too movement.During his  time heroines giggled when he  pinched their bottoms.

 Back then such behaviour was  an accepted part of the entertainment  business. There  is  a  story(unverified)  of the legendary Raj Kumar sitting with a  journalist-friend  , getting a call from  an iconic heroine known for her tragic image.

Mr Kumar finished the call , turned to  the journalist and  grinned,  “Unless I  go to her she won’t be able to sleep.”

Heroes openly bragged  about their conquests.Indian cinema’s he-man would turn the pages of  film magazines and  point to the heroines he had conquered. They still brag. The  dark intense  hero cracks up telling his friends loudly about the women he  has slept with. The irony of thisdeeprooted misogyny is  that some  of the big names  filled with righteous indignation about  those culprits who are named and  shamed, are themselves guilty of  widespread exploitation.

And  it  won’t stop. The MeToo movement  will. They won’t.  No one  will point a finger at the Big Guns.Big-name actresses  who have suffered  in the initial stages  of their careers won’t call out those who have exploited them.

A very big  leading lady told me,  “Of course I’ve been through it. But I can’t complain. I am where I am  and it’s best  to not rake up the past.No one  rapes  anyone. If you  feel like  giving in , you do.It’s as simple as that.”

So only  those who have not  “made it” will come forward. Their voices are  being heard, of course. But none of  these  has the  clout and power to push the  movement to  the next level.

Swara Bhaskar spoke about a  director who  harassed  her  during a  long outdoor shooting.  Why doesn’t she call  him out? “Because he  is not doing any work as far as I  know. I don’t want  him to get publicity if I call him out.”

I am sure the director must have wiped  the  sweat from brow on hearing this. But if selective  shaming and that too via several anonymous accounts,  is all that  the MeToo movement has to offer  in Bollywood, then I am afraid the movement will die down for  the want of heft.

 There will be no Harvey Weinstein in India because there  is no Ashley Judd calling him out.

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