It has been a year since New York Times published its expose on Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, taking the lid off sexual exploitation in the showbiz capital and marking that defining moment when women across the world, and in India too, came forward to say #MeToo.
That the debate in the Hindi film industry around Tanushree Dutta’s allegation that veteran actor Nana Patekar harassed her during a 2008 film shoot should be gathering steam a year after the NYT story on October 5, 2017 is coincidence perhaps. But the shout out to the powerful that the silence on the issue must be broken is not.
The Weinstein saga of sexual intimidation and harassment created a seismic shift in Hollywood’s gender politics and altered the landscape the world over, albeit in varying degrees.
It is tempting to conclude that Dutta’s allegation has heralded Bollywood’s #MeToo moment but that may be presumptuous, say industry insiders.
“While it is great that women are speaking up, it is also showing us how hard it is to actually break that silence and how and why so many women do not report cases of sexual harassment at the workplace or their experiences of sexual violence because they know that reporting is not only the means to relive the trauma but also face the new trauma of deniers who will slut shame you,” actor Swara Bhaskar told PTI
“I Believe Tanushree Dutta!”, actor Frieda Pinto declared.
“What you have done is monumental and important and it has to shake the very core of a nation and an ideology that for too long has gotten away with heinous crimes against women and where the ugliness of misogyny has dominated the rights and suppressed any voice that has dared to speak up,” Pinto wrote in an Instagram post.
“Sacred Games” star Kubbra Sait believes the year has been one of tremendous change and strength.
“It’s been a year of coming forth, letting go of the bygones finding the courage to speak for what is right. I think the #MeToo movement is going to have a snowball effect,” Sait said.
Industry biggies like Salman Khan and Amitabh Bachchan have faced severe criticism on social media for evading questions on Dutta’s allegations.
The support was slow but did finally come with Farhan Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor, Richa Chadha, Priyanka Chopra, Hansal Mehta and Anurag Kashyap speaking out in Dutta’s support.
“The #MeToo movement isn’t going away any time soon. It is here to stay. It is time to make men accountable for their actions and the trauma that is caused to the victims, men or women,” Chaddha said.
Backing Dutta, Union Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said it was time for India to have its own #MeToo moment.
Patekar has denied the allegations and slapped Dutta with a notice. He has found support in Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray and Maharashtra minister Deepak Kesarkar.
But the winds of change have begun.
In a ripple effect, on Thursday, an allegation by a woman that an AIB member had sent her sexually explicit photographs opened the floodgates with several others coming forward with similar stories. This prompted noted stand up comics Varun Grover and Aditi Mittal to call him out.
Outside showbiz, many women across sectors have come forward to detail their experience of intimidation, assault and harassment.
The push back has also been severe with people like choreographer Saroj Khan, who said the casting couch has existed since time immemorial and it depends on how a woman behaves, being criticised for her views.
Bollywood has largely stayed unaffected by the naming and shaming aspect. This changed with Dutta coming forward.
The actor said the impact that #MeToo had in Hollywood was not felt in Bollywood.
According to sociopolitical activist Chanda Asani, the outrage is mostly happening on social media and the voices of people working on the ground is not really being heard.
“On sexual harassment, I think we are trying to put ourselves in the same rut patriarchy has put us in. It’s not just about the body – woman or man’s. The power structures need to change,” Asani said.
“… the ones who can ideally make the difference, they don’t care enough for it,” she added.
Emboldened by the many women who have shared their experiences over the years, a journalist, who did not want to be named, recently filed a harassment complaint against a colleague,
“You just wish to break the silence,” is how she put it.