Bollywood says #MeToo
Tanushree Dutta set the ball rolling for the floodgates to open up. Is this the watershed the film industry had so desperately been looking for?
Published: Fri 26 Oct 2018, 12:00 AM
Last updated: Fri 2 Nov 2018, 9:09 AM
Never before in the history of Indian cinema, which is over a century old, have its foundations been rocked as they have been in the months of September-October. In the vein of Hollywood's #MeToo movement, it's now clear that in Bollywood the male-dominated, exploitative behemoth will no longer be tolerated.
A series of top names, including (actors) Nana Patekar, Alok Nath, Sushant Singh Rajput, Rajat Kapoor, Piyush Mishra, (composer) Anu Malik, (singer) Kailash Kher, (directors) Vikas Bahl, Subhash Ghai, Luv Ranjan and Sajid Khan - to name a few - have been charged with lewd misconduct by actresses, female journalists, directors and assistant directors.
By the time this column comes out in print, the movement kicked off by former actress Tanushree Dutta's charges against Patekar - on the sets of Horn 'Ok' Pleassss in 2008 - is expected to intensify in its attempt to clean up the Augean stables, as it were. A section of show business has responded either with silence or cynicism - but, gratifyingly, a sizeable section has been sensitive enough to state they will not participate in any collaboration with those whose misdemeanours have been exposed.
Among those who have vociferously supported the victims of harassment are Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar and Hrithik Roshan. Aamir has dropped out of Mogul, a project to be helmed by Subhash Kapoor, who finds himself dealing with a blitz of allegations from an actress. Akshay has gone on record to say he will not be part of Sajid Khan's multi-starrer comedy Housefull 4. Hrithik, too, has washed his hands off Super 30, directed by Vikas Bahl. If the accused are exonerated, naturally the decisions will be reconsidered.
Netflix, the streaming channel rated as the messiah of a new wave of original feature films, is reported to have taken a strong stand. The buzz is that Sacred Games, which was scheduled for a second season, will be scrapped since its writer Varun Grover has also been named as an offender. Moreover, the Mumbai underworld series was being co-directed by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane, two of the four partners in the beleaguered and now-dissolved content production house, Phantom Films. More series which were in the works have been scrapped.
The first-of-its-kind movement has also disclosed names of best-selling authors, politicians and stand-up comics. But above all, it's Bollywood which is running scared. Many respected names are being discussed on Twitter as offenders, but haven't been identified yet.
After some tweets, reports emerged of ace casting director Mukesh Chhabra, who selected the acting ensemble of Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur. In a turnaround, Kashyap has said he has nothing to say about Chhabra and has "cut off ties with [him] for lots of reasons related to casting and reasons that I don't feel the need to put out in the public domain". The last film Chhabra had cast for Kashyap was none other than the lately-released Manmarziyaan. When I asked Chhabra for his comments, he said, "Anurag-ji is my mentor. I don't want to make any further comments."
Following the allegations, Chhabra was suspended by Fox Stars Studio which was producing his debut directorial venture, a Bollywood remake of The Fault In Our Stars, starring Sushant Singh Rajput.
The atmosphere in Bollywood has never been as guarded and tense as it is today. Since I was working on a Kashyap versus Chhabra story, a PR agent called up to inquire, "What are you writing? I'm asking you as a friend, not as a professional." Odd that, because this PR agent hadn't spoken to me in close to three years.
Alongside, an incalculable number of age-old Bollywood malaises are being discussed openly. Technicians, writers and directors who have gone unpaid since years, and scriptwriters whose screenplays have been allegedly plagiarised, are asking for a rehaul of the film industry's unprofessional style of functioning.
The workforce - be it spotboys, hairstylists and makeup personnel - are no longer in the mood to grin and bear it.
Yet, like it or not, a radical makeover of filmmaking is just not possible overnight. A variety of associations do exist in Mumbai, to separately look into the grievances of actors, directors, writers, junior artistes and the aged who have fallen on lean days. Unfortunately, these associations have not been effective enough to make themselves forceful support systems.
The Maharashtra State Commission for Women has issued notices to Nana Patekar and producer Sami Siddiqui, choreographer Ganesh Acharya and director Rakesh Sarang of Horn 'Ok' Pleassss. Patekar has dismissed the allegations against him.
In New Delhi, the seat of political power, the Opposition has proposed to set up a four-member judicial committee comprising of retired judges to look into the allegations of misconduct. In Mumbai, three major film associations have announced separate decisions to address the issue by constituting committees, among other measures.
Bollywood has been infamous for scandals and subjugation; and its male-centric films rarely treat the female protagonist as more than a decorative object. Indeed, the market gurus are wary of funding and releasing films which are 'woman-centric'. Whenever a film which places the heroine as its centrepiece turns out to be a huge hit, it is considered an exception rather than the rule.
With the system now being questioned at its very roots, clearly it's time for a change. To say a revolution is on would be facile perhaps. But at the very least, it has been established that this is the hour to speak up - not suffer in silence.