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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Suchitra Krishnamoorthi Opens Up on #MeToo India & Power-Play in Bollywood

Suchitra Krishnamoorthi Actor is a person with many talents: Singer, Poet, Painter and Philanthropist.  

But besides her craft in the arts, the Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa actress is known for being vocal on various current topics.

One of the on-going and prominent topics in India right now is the #MeToo movement, which sparked off after Tanushree Dutta’s allegations against Nana Patekar.

Those accusations led to other people speaking up about their sexual harassment ordeal.

Filme Shilmy got in touch with Suchitra Krishnamoorthi to talk about the #MeToo campaign in Bollywood, the power-play in the industry and much more. 

The #MeToo campaign has been kicking off in India. Do you feel it’s been a long time coming?

Absolutely. I think people/women in the past have talked about it but they were always shut up about it with threats made regarding their careers.

Definitely, there’s a time for everything and now is the right time for the #MeToo movement.

I applaud each and every woman who has come out.

At the same time, I don’t think it should be a platform to air personal stories of romances and negotiations gone wrong.

It should be used sensitively and sensibly.

The media should highlight only the important issues rather than give credence to stories that have no credibility.

Those accused of sexual harassment have been either boycotted or dropped from a project. According to you, how effective has the campaign been so far?

I think it’s very effective.

Unless something impacts work/business, nobody takes note.

People think that there’ll be a loss of revenue. People are not really embarrassed about being shamed.

The hero can still ride on yesterday’s scandal. But the minute this translates into the loss of work or business, that’s when the impact happens.

However, I’m very glad that it has happened.

Having said that a lot of people tell a person (who alleges sexual harassment) to go to court. But how does one prove a dirty gaze?

Are women supposed to carry cameras and microphones with them?

So, the women who are talking about this should be respected and applauded.

But at the same time, this shouldn’t be used as a platform to call out random names without proof.

If it’s your story, you have a right to tell it.

For example, Sapna Bhavnani calling out Amitabh Bachchan and quoting Parveen Babi as an example of exploitation, I thought was diluting the seriousness of the whole movement.

Only the truth should come out, regardless of how long ago it happened.

At the same time, a person should have the responsibility of a movement like #MeToo.

There are the Vishakha Guidelines and text messages/witness accounts established as evidence. Don’t you think this is enough to prove sexual harassment in a court of law?

Of course! Text messages and witness accounts are definitely proof enough.

Even women have to exercise their own intelligence and caution in this matter.

Let’s face it. There is a play between the man and woman, we are born as a result of that.

If that goes, one can’t completely homogenise or synthesise that.

Attraction and sexuality are a part of that… But one has to use their own intelligence and discretion.

Are the actions taken against the accused perpetrators appropriate?

A lot of these men misbehaved on the pomp of their power.

So by taking away these positions of power will compel them to think and atone.

Many people will continue to rob if they are allowed to get away with robbery. It’s human nature.

#MeToo is about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Mind you, there’s so much of sexual abuse everywhere, I think the movement is just a tip-of-the-iceberg.

Nonetheless, it’s a very positive step.

If misbehaviour in the workplace is resolved, it will impact elsewhere.

In a media interview, Tanushree Dutta addressed that toxic masculinity culture in Bollywood might be the root of sexual harassment. Would you agree with this?

Toxic masculinity and patriarchy is a very real thing. Both men and women are victims of patriarchy.

Men are also victims of patriarchy as women are sometimes because they think it is the required behaviour and know no different.

A movement like #MeToo will let such people know that just because it has been the ‘norm’ it doesn’t make it right.

It also doesn’t mean one can continue with it.

Is there a rampant hypocrisy in the industry?

Oh, there is a double-standard. The kind of masculine advantage is a given and taken advantage of – especially in the power structure.

Hats off to actors like Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Anushka Sharma who are in their own way for working hard doing what they do and changing the power structure.

Ultimately, everything is about commerce and revenue. Subsequently, the men have control over the revenue and commerce.

The body or ‘item girl’ is replaceable. But these girls (Deepika, Priyanka and Anushka) have shown that it’s more than just their beauty and have managed to bring in the numbers.

Ultimately, it’s about the power of numbers.

Many have even argued that the accused people are ‘small fishes’.

What is your perspective on this and how do you feel about the ‘big fishes’ being exposed? Will they be exposed?

Well, I hope so.

A lot of it (sexual harassment) is very rampant. I think the greater the power, the more it is abused.

I hope that the ‘big fishes’ are named. But more than anything, it should be factual.

As long as any of the allegations are factual, I will applaud any girl (or man) who reveals their story.

Regardless of whether a big or small fish is named, one should just express their story and ensure that it is true.

Many Bollywood biggies have maintained silence about the campaign and some have even avoided speaking about the issue. Why do you think they’ve done this?

Bollywood thrives on the culture of silence. It’s only now that people are talking.

Otherwise, it’s like the Loch Ness monster, in a sense that sexual harassment happens but nobody knows anything.

People who are ingrained in that culture, find it difficult to come out of that.

For example, so many people named (accused) in the #MeToo campaign are my friends and I know them.

These people have not acted funny or mistreated with me, so I would like to stand up for them.

But at the same time, I cannot dis another woman who makes an allegation.

Just because it didn’t happen to me, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen to somebody else.

I say that to everyone who has named in the movement: If you have done it, then you have to atone and pay the price for it.

One cannot get away with it.

Despite the industry developing and advancing, in your opinion, why do you feel the powerful continue to oppress the lesser-known?

The power structure operates in such a way, that the need to be powerful is as much as the need to be oppressed.

Power is a manipulation of the mind. The powerful just prey on fear, insecurity and poverty.

People who feel powerless are not at fault. You can’t tell someone feels like that to “get up and be strong”. They have to figure it out for themselves.

In the meantime, one has to create an environment that allows a person to be and feel safe.

As a result of this movement, there needs to be a safe and respectful environment, regardless of age, gender and religion.

Some people who have suffered sexual harassment fear that their career is at stake and this seems to prevent them from speaking out?

I’m not going to take names, because these are closed chapters. But that has happened to me a couple of times when I was very young.

I was just about 17 and I kept singing the songs of a movie and he (a powerful person) kept telling me to meet him at the middle of the night and told me how beautiful I was.

This was during the pre-mobile days and so I got my father on the phone (to listen) and I told the man to stop it and behave.

I remember the guy yelled at me saying he will stop me from singing or doing anything in the industry.

But I laughed because I knew this person had no power to make or break me.

Everything ultimately stems from fear and that fear needs to go.

One has to trust their own talent.

Sex is not just exploitative, it is very consensual and transactional.

There are people who are very comfortable with it and this has been going on for a while now.

If you’re using sex as a currency, then you have to be prepared for the outcome.

Why is sex used as a means of currency in Bollywood?

I don’t think it’s specifically Bollywood, but sex is used as a currency worldwide.

Exploitation happens when there is poverty, fear and over-ambition. Predators are very in tuned to those aspects.

Those aspects are normal. One is bound to be afraid of doing the wrong thing.

There is also a danger of people misusing this movement as a way of seeking personal vengeance. What would you say to those who do this and the people who are wrongly accused?

The way Kangana Ranaut has been banging on about Hrithik Roshan is borderline loony.

One cannot have an affair with a married man for three years and say that he exploited and used me.

Didn’t you know that he was married in the first place?

She has to just accept that she is a grown woman who had an affair that went sour.

She should stop playing victim all the time.

Some instances, like this, are absolutely ridiculous.

The ethics have to work everywhere. Women exploit this as much as the men do.

As for the media, they shouldn’t be reporting ridiculous stories.

Our country has so many serious things to address.

Perhaps stories regarding people like Nana Patekar, Alok Nath and Sajid Khan have been a long time coming?

Absolutely. See those are the real predators and stories.

One has heard so many stories about Nana Patekar behaving in a loud and bullying manner.

These are the type of behaviours which need to stop.

If people had listened to Tanushree 10-years-ago, India could’ve had their #MeToo movement then?

There’s a right time for everything… Even minds have to be prepared.

What and where do you think Indian cinema will end up post this campaign?

What clearly needs to emerge from all this is that a person must not be allowed to misbehave with a man or a woman inappropriately.

I don’t think the campaign is going to impact the content of cinema. Films like Pink is a good example of the objective regarding #MeToo.

The workplace and work ethos itself will be most impacted.

It will bring about more respectful behaviour in the workplace and people will think twice before misbehaving.

Suddenly, Big Brother will be watching everyone – with cameras around, it will possibly become like a big sting operation.

What is the need-of-the-hour regarding the #MeToo campaign? In particular, what do you think should be enforced?

Very stringent rules in the workplace should be enforced, especially boundaries.

For instance, now a male friend of mine will feel awkward about putting his arm around me.

So, I think we must not dehumanise ourselves to such an extent that everything stems from paranoia.

One has to find a balance. I.e. Some offices have a rule that you cannot get romantically involved with a colleague.

Hence, it is important that one keeps their matters outside of the workplace.

Regardless of where a person comes to work, it must be ensured that the place is a safe environment.

On the film front, Suchitra will be next seen in Rome Akbar Walter alongside John Abraham, Mouni Roy and Jackie Shroff.

Filme Shilmy wishes her all the best for upcoming projects and thanks her for speaking to us.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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