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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Indian Entertainment: Why Are The #MeToo Accused Still In Prominent Positions?

#MeToo, the movement was founded by Tarana Burke but began as a social phenomenon in October 2017 as a hashtag started by American actress Alyssa Milano who shared her story of sexual assault against the former movie mogul, Harvey Weinstein. Soon, women from across the globe began talking about their survivor stories.

In 2018 India, the crusade gained momentum after actress Tanushree Dutta decided to speak up against actor Nana Patekar. What began as one woman’s story soon became a phenomenon when the names of powerful men in the country started surfacing. From actor Alok Nath to journalist and politician MJ Akbar, the movement has presented many stories of sexual harassment and abuse.

This article is not about “why didn’t the accusers file an official complaint?” nor is it an exploration of gender stigmas/stereotypes and/or any legal inputs. This is because these conversations warrant a separate discourse of their own with accurate, expert citations. The discussion is about how actors who have spoken out against such wrongdoings are struggling for work, whereas alleged culprits are offered major shows or even a significant movie opportunity.

Dutta traced a harassment incident which took place on the sets of Horn Ok Pleassss in 2008. She complained to Cine and TV Artists Association (CINTAA) a decade before the allegations resurfaced but claimed that she was ignored. She had filed an FIR against him. However, Mumbai Police later filed a B-summary report, seeking to close the case, claiming that there is no evidence to substantiate the complaint.

Since the ordeal, Patekar will be seen in the lead role of a social thriller called The Confession. Whereas Dutta is said to be struggling for work. According to the Hindustan Times, she says: “I am trying to resurrect my career, and people are interested in working with me, despite the image that these Bollywood mafias have portrayed as being difficult. I am getting offers for films and web projects, in fact, I signed some also, but have noticed none materialise. All of a sudden, the producers or director go in incognito mode, or sponsors drop.”

Singer Chinmayi Sripaada and a few others accused popular lyricist Vairamuthu as a sexual predator in the #MeToo movement. He was given a literary award at the ONV Cultural Academy, which he returned following outrage against his win. Indian news outlet Pinkvilla even cites how he was seen participating in public events, giving interviews and speeches.

Another infamous case is of Sajid Khan and several women have accused sexual crimes against him. Actresses Saloni Chopra, Sherlyn Chopra, Bipasha Basu, Aahana Kumra and Mandana Karimi, were others to accuse the filmmaker. A BBC documentary Death In Bollywood also cites how the late actress Jiah Khan was also harassed when reading a script.

In December 2018, the Indian Film and Television Directors Association (IFTDA) announced that it was suspending Khan for the accusations levelled against him. But after a year, the ban was lifted and new allegations were posed, leading Khan to disappear from social media. He was also dropped from Housefull 4.

He has been announced to make his directorial ‘comeback’ with 100%, a film backed by T-Series. But his participation in Bigg Boss 16 as a housemate has left some netizens repulsed and shocked. On the show, he speaks about his absence and how arrogance became a major reason for his downfall. The conversation about him being a suspect of such serious crimes was avoided.

An alternative example is that of Anu Malik. Malik has been accused of sexual misconduct previously by Alisha Chinai during the 90s. She filed a sexual harassment suit and got a restraining order passed against him. Then in 2018, he was called out by singers Sona Mohapatra and Shweta Pandit on social media. Consequently, he stepped down as a judge on Indian Idol 10. He was reinstated on Season 11.

Malik’s lawyer responded to these allegations in a statement, “The allegations made against my client are emphatically denied as completely false and baseless. My client respects the #metoo movement but to use this movement to start a character assassination mission is obnoxious.” Now, he judges Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Li’l Champs, a children’s singing show.

There have been positive changes since the campaign emerged in India. Earlier this year, the makers of Gehraiyaan employed an intimacy director. This was the first time an Indian feature-length film credits a person as an intimacy director. There is an onus for women to take centre stage in essential professional positions. If we see, there has been a paradigm shift in storytelling too, where commercial stories on women are emerging. Subsequently, they are even succeeding.

Actress Preeti Jhangiani tells Outlook: “The number one change is that women are now more aware of their rights. Every office corporate or otherwise now has mandatory CCTV cameras and a policy and committee in a place where women can approach in case of any grievances. Also, the work culture, in general, is now more inclusive of women and they do feel freer to air their unique ideas and solutions.”

Having said that though, prominent filmmakers who have been accused of sexual crimes in the workplace, like Rajkumar Hirani, Subhash Kapoor and Vikas Bahl are back in the director’s chair. They are helming new projects featuring huge stars. Subhash Ghai, a veteran movie-maker who was ‘cleared’ of molestation charges in 2018, was even awarded a ‘Lifetime Achievement’ at Filmfare. Is it fair that such personalities return to work and even get commemorated? To what extent is clearance an actual definition of innocence? Which direction is our society heading in?

Only time and fate will tell.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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