Several powerful Bollywood voices have spoken to this writer about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry. And it is very clear that silence is no more an option.It is learnt from very reliable sources that many more voices are coming forward in the near future with their own tales of sexual violation that they were so far afraid to reveal.
Says Nandita Das, “Absolutely. The more women speak up, the more it will give confidence to others who have been abused and will also serve as a deterrent to those who have felt they can get away with it. For me, #TimesUp is a better movement as it doesn’t solely put the onus on the victims and instead invokes a sense of shared responsibility in all of us – both men and women.As an afterthought, maybe “better” is not the right word. For me, #TimesUp is a movement that resonates more than the others because it has a sense of shared responsibility.”
Producer Prernaa Arora says women need to be respected in the film industry. “When I started my career as a producer I worked with lovely decorous people like Akshay Kumar, Anushka Sharma and her brother Karnesh. After that it has been hell for me. The biggest mistake of my life is to believe everyone is good when you are good to them. People have been mean to me just because film production is considered a male domain.I’ve been cheated and abused.. No, I am not playing the feminine card. I am talking about basic decency towards all human beings. I don’t even see that happening in this industry. I had two choices: quit or fight. I decided to fight. My suggestion to women: don’t let anyone bully you into submission. I’ve met and handled one of the most corrupt and vicious male producers on the planet. If I can deal with him, then ladies, you can deal with anyone.”
Gay filmmaker Onir agrees with Nandita. “I hope voices like Tanushree’s are heard and heeded .. when one person speaks up it gives courage to others .. and the support of the industry is equally vital to make people who speak have faith in the industry.Also it will make people who harass much more hesitant and not feel like they get away with any untoward behaviour.”
Has former actress Tanushree Dutta opened up a pandora’s box. Does a voice like hers encourage other women to come forward with their tales?
“I hope and wish so. That’s going to best way to receive her situation of opening up,” says Tapsi Pannu.
As for Tanushree coming out ten years late, Tapsee protests, “I am not going to judge anyone for speaking up late or speaking up at all. Because the cynics will have an issue a either way whether she spoke or didn’t speak.”
The outspoken Pooja Bhatt can’t understand the current obsession with the ‘metoo’ movement. “Why are we so obsessed with the term ‘me too’? Is sexual harassment and abuse new to India? Sexual misconduct,harassment and abuse is a reality In India. Women and even men across India have had to endure this for decades.I am glad that we are finally discussing this openly but it is not exclusive to the film industry. In fact we have access to the media which the average person doesn’t even have. Women get raped and are told to keep quiet and get on with life as it will bring dishonour to the family. Maximum cases of sexual misconduct and abuse occur within the family home.”
Veteran actress Neena Gupta agrees with Pooja Bhatt. “To hell with the MeToo movement in India.Who cares about whether it reaches us or not? We in the entertainment industry need to learn to respect everyone’s space. Whether it is a big name or a small name, pehle insaan ki izzat karo.”
The fact that many important voices in Bollywood choose to keep silent over the prickly issue is no surprise to Pooja Bhatt. “It’s naive to expect Bollywood or anyone for that matter to stand by you when you walk through the fires of life. If you believe in your truth then you must speak it without hesitation. And have the courage to stand alone because truth isolates you in a world that thrives on lives. Bollywood like any industry supports who they stand to benefit from. And even that is temporary. To have a conscience in this day and age is to be a zebra striped giraffe in a world full of hyenas.”
The intrepid Renuka Shahane has her own take on the impact of Tanushree Dutta’s revelations: “I do not really think that it will start a #MeToo movement here because both women and men who work in our industry do not open up about the sexual or physical harassment that they face in the industry or are witness to it because they fear that powerful people will destroy their careers and no one will believe them. In that sense there is no solidarity with victims; not even in our society outside the film industry. We have seen so many cases where victim shaming and character assassination is indulged in which tremendously adds to the trauma. So people prefer to keep quiet about it.”
Tamil cinema’s formidable voice Khushboo feels, “We women need to speak.. need to speak on time and not much later ..not be afraid of consequences..people ( society) has to stop judging a woman. a man is never judged..women have to be strong and speak up.”
Concludes filmmaker Hansal Mehta, “Abuse by people who perceive themselves to be in positions of power is rampant. Until we stop disbelieving victims of abuse a #MeToo movement is difficult. The culture of trolling and demonizing the victim is unfortunately ingrained in our majoritarian prejudices. If you claim to be a victim no matter how late you are doubted. That must stop.”