Showbiz

Can Bollywood wipe the #MeToo scar off its DAMAGED face?

Tanushree Dutta seeks FRESH PROBE on Nana Patekar issue

Recently, the Mumbai Police submitted a closure report for #MeToo cases like Tanushree Dutta’s, who accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment during the shoot of a song in 2008. Due to lack of evidence and witness statement not supporting Dutta’s story the case was closed and reported as ‘filed with malicious intentions’. But this week, Tanushree has written an e-mail to the Commissioner of Police, asking for a fresh probe in the case against Patekar. As such cases drag on, industry insiders discuss if Bollywood can wipe the #MeToo scar off its damaged face.

When the #MeToo movement hit the world, no one knew its ripple effect would reach so many shores. Bollywood, which has forever been an insulated kingdom of filmy families, known for its tight-lipped fraternity, was shockingly exposed.

Though most people have never raised their voices about the relatively shadier going-ons of the world’s largest movie industry, the #MeToo movement saw a handful of women come forward and speak up of issues old and new.

One would think that in the aftermath, Bollywood and the men accused, would be reeling under, unable to face the world. But if the slew of clean chits given are to be considered, the tide seems to be flowing the other way.

Clean chits

Take into account how actress Tanushree Dutta’s FIR with Oshiwara Police Station against Nana Patekar, accusing him of sexually harassing her during the shooting of a song on the sets of ‘Horn Ok Please’ in 2008, concluded. The Mumbai police gave Patekar a clean chit in the case, filing a report that said Tanushree’s complaint could have been lodged to seek revenge and that it seemed ‘malicious and fake’. The actress has claimed that the police have colluded with the veteran actor.

Vikas Bahl
Vikas Bahl

In another such instance, Vikas Bahl, the director of Queen who was accused of sexual harassment by an employee of Phantom Films, has been cleared of all charges. An internal inquiry by Reliance Entertainment cleared him and reinstated him as the director of the Hrithik Roshan film Super 30 before its release.

Vinta Nanda and Alok Nath
Vinta Nanda and Alok Nath

Well known for his sanskaari roles in top budget films, actor Alok Nath was accused of rape, sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior, by atleast three women, one of them being writer-director-producer Vinta Nanda. Nanda had accused Nath in a Facebook post that went viral, after which Nath had filed a defamation suit against her. Nanda filed an FIR against Nath, alleging rape. In January 2019, the Mumbai sessions court granted anticipatory bail to the actor, observing that Nanda did not lodge the report immediately after the alleged incident for her own benefit. The court also observed that possibility cannot be ruled out that Nath has been falsely accused in the crime.

Karan Oberoi receives tremendous support

Pooja Bedi and Karan Oberoi
Pooja Bedi and Karan Oberoi

TV actor Karan Oberoi, who was accused of rape and extortion by a woman, was granted bail by the Bombay High Court, about a month after his arrest. Oberoi has since been seen at a demonstration highlighting #MenToo; a campaign to create awareness about cases where men are falsely accused of rape and other such charges by women. In what is a shocking turn of events, the person who made the accusation, was arrested for ‘falsely’ implicating Oberoi.

Soni Razdan - Mahesh Bhatt
Soni Razdan – Mahesh Bhatt

But a global movement like #MeToo will hardly die down anytime soon, says actress-filmmaker Soni Razdan, wife of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt. Razdan feels, “A significant movement like this cannot simply go away. There has been a seismic shift and in future, people who are violated in such a manner, won’t be quiet anymore. That also implies, others will learn to conduct themselves better.” Razdan had also shared a past encounter of sexual harassment with a news outlet at the peak of the #MeToo movement, where she had narrated how during a film shoot, somebody had tried to rape her.

Gender neutral should be the future

Poojita Chowdhury

Poojita Chowdhury, a talented filmmaker (and daughter of Renuka Chowdhury, the former Union minister of State for Ministry of Women and Child Development), says “It is unfair and unfortunate when people who have committed crimes are protected and get away. But I believe that a new order is emerging out of this for the greater good, and it is not all hopeless. Patriarchy is very deeply entrenched for centuries, so it’s not going to be easy to change the status quo.”

Chowdhury’s film, Gender Bender, is about changing gender roles and rules around work and features real women in traditionally male jobs, and daughters who work with their fathers. “This is where its relevant to the movement, because ultimately it is about evolving into a society, where work, talent and opportunity are gender neutral spaces — the right of every person, be it man or woman, to work with respect, dignity and same opportunity,” she says.

Sifting the real from the fake

Bollywood’s only PR guru Dale Bhagwagar gets philosophical, saying, “When God created humans — the highest among the living species — he created man and woman. Man went on to create society and a class divide between the rich and poor. With time, another divide took birth in the form of racism — the genetics and colour divide between black and white. Now thanks to the #MeToo movement, humans have been introduced to the ultimate divide — between man and woman themselves. And in India, the world’s largest film industry, Bollywood, is most impacted.”

Dale Bhagwagar
Dale Bhagwagar

“The movement has left a scar, not only on Bollywood, but on the fabric of society,” adds the PR consultant. But Bhagwagar points out that Bollywood’s version of #MeToo has been very different from Hollywood’s. “Here, 97 percent of the ladies, who came forward with issues had nothing concrete to say,” he feels. “They were more or less being biased or vindictive towards men. Inspite of that, our scandal-hungry media lapped up all of that and more, turning the voices into a huge campaign, probably for the sake of extra eyeballs, hit rate and TRPs.”

He feels that with the exception of Vinta Nanda, whose rape charges warrant serious attention, the others said things like ‘he tried to touch me’, ‘he tried to feel me up’, ‘he tried to kiss me’, ‘he put his hand around my waist’, ‘he put his hand on my shoulder’ and similar things. “The guys did not molest, they didn’t force — they probably tried their luck by casual flirting. But the #MeToo gals named and shamed guys in the media, and put a blot on their brand and image forever for that,” says Bhagwagar. Ironically, some of the names featured in the Wikipedia #MeToo page have been his ex-clients. These include Vinta Nanda, Mandana Karimi, Elnaaz Norouzi and Shama Sikander.

Pooja Bedi, a strong voice behind her friend Karan Oberoi’s recent misfortunes, couldn’t share her thoughts with us due to a hectic schedule of spearheading a movement called ‘Men Too’. According to The Quint, Bedi said, “Taking into consideration the history of our country and the patriarchal society that we live in, there are times when a rape victim goes to the police station and her complaint does not even get registered. That is wrong. So, we need laws against rape and such violence. But at the same time, if women are misusing the law that is meant to protect them, we need to think about how to protect the rights of the man as well.”

Razdan thinks it is power that creates this sort of an imbalance. People inclined to, will always misuse it and in a film industry as huge as Bollywood, there is no one player involved, she believes. “We cannot paint everyone with the same brush. I feel everyone should speak up, gender notwithstanding. Making someone guilty until proven innocent is not fair and one must support the real victims,” she says matter-of-factly.

The real movement trudges along

Chowdhury believes the movement helps to create space for human potential and is not just a ‘battle of the sexes’. On hindsight, to say that anyone who has been named has lost out on opportunities, may well be speaking too soon. Most of the men have returned to work, some like Alok Nath having even added a hit like De De Pyaar De to the cap.

Bhagwagar who was hired for crisis management by one of the men whose name had popped up in #MeToo, did a short-term guerrilla PR (stealth) exercise for him. “I believed in the guy’s innocence, so I admit, I took steps to drown the girl’s articles in the media with some spin and SEO. But not everyone was as lucky as my PR client. A lot of men now have to live with the damages to their online image for life,” he says.

That said, the way ahead for the real victims of MeToo is somewhat blurry. The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013, has a few obvious drawbacks and so, old cases of harassment can’t be taken into consideration. Internal committees might do their job well but that’s not transparent enough. While a robust set of gender neutral laws can ensure people get their voices heard and justice is met, the playing field, especially in Bollywood, may not be even.

Going ahead

“There are committees in every office, but we don’t see them as very effective. But we still have to keep at building such outreach programmes and institutions that will get a firm grip of how to deal with authentic cases over time,” says Razdan.

Tanushree Dutta

So what do the women who have finally found the strength to speak up, do until justice is met? A good example is Tanushree, the one who began the movement in Bollywood. After her case was shut, Tanushree told the Indian Express, “I pray that I never have to deal with this kind of toxicity ever again in life. I am tired of fighting alone against oppressors, bullies and a corrupt system. But please don’t take this example to mean that you will not be heard when you speak up. Continue to expose these creeps through social media and other platforms so that in future people would think twice before troubling an innocent young girl. I still believe I will get justice and victory will be mine. How, only time will tell.”

Chowdhury summarizes the movement’s true effect succinctly. “It’s like a volcano that has erupted. So in the aftermath of such an eruption, there will be consequences. But it is very early to say that it has scarred men to work with women, or that the latter will lose out on work opportunities. Hopefully, the larger outcome of this movement will set a new standard of ethics, accountability and personal conduct across professions, for both men and women. The critical thing now is to use this time not to settle back into the old system.”