It's taken a year for the #MeToo movement to reach the Indian shores and from the most unlikely quarters - a former actress who opened up on a ten-year-old incident experienced by her on the film set of ‘Horn Ok Pleasss’.
Tanushree Dutta had alleged in 2008 that she was sexually harassed by Nana Patekar during the shooting of an item song. She also called out choreographer Ganesh Acharya and the film's producer and director for being in cahoots with the actor. When she was asked if #MeToo was possible in India, she referred to the incident and said, ‘not until that was acknowledged.' Support for the actress and stories have been spilling out since.
While Nana has maintained his stand and denied the incident, the spotlight has been put on his abrasive nature on the set. Dimple Kapadia has gone on record to call him an obnoxious person after working with him in a film. She, however, clarified that the talented actor's behaviour can sometimes border on the dark. She made no reference to any kind of misbehaviour.
Tanushree's timing, on the other hand, is being questioned, but the actress who has been slapped with two legal notices remains undeterred and has now filed a case against the director Rakesh Sarang and Nana Patekar in the same case.
"The timing is absolutely correct as there is a need for #MeToo movement in India. Also, these people conveniently choose to forget that I have been talking about the incident for 10 years. This is just the random programmed banter of a regressive mind to deviate and dismiss the point in question," she said.
"Public records confirm my continually speaking out for a decade, it is just that the media and public have chosen to give wind to this flame at this point of time. Perhaps collective consciousness is rising to bring awareness to these issues. Also, given the repeated and continuous damage to my reputation, it's never too late to rise up and defend myself. Karma is coming back to bite them. Enough of their lies and psychological manipulations. People are seeing through them now, hence the traction of this old story,’’ she added.
Tanushree's story reminds me of the time I wrote a report in The Daily in the 90s. It was about the head honcho of a GEC channel asking actresses to visit him at a flat in the suburbs. If the girl didn’t agree, he made sure she lost her role to another actress, who fulfilled his expectations. I was slapped with a legal notice, but he eventually lost his job as the TV actress had the courage to speak up.
Actresses being made to compromise for work was quite prevalent then. The topmost filmmaker in the 90s was known to call the actress to his Madh Island bungalow. If she refused, the shoot would not resume. This happened to one of the beauty queens of the 90s. No one took a stand on it, instead the story was whispered in the industry. Like in the case of Tanushree, senior members of the industry refused to comment or speak on the issue.
I also remember reporting about the Navneet Nishan case when actor Alok Nath misbehaved with her on Tara’s set at RK Studio. The actress slapped him and even complained about the actor who would come drunk on the set but no action was taken by the channel. The same incident was posted by writer Vinta Nanda on Facebook on Monday.
What is heartening is that everyone is being taken to the cleaners if they even attempt to dismiss the issue
The ripple effect has resulted in not only actresses coming out with their own experiences, but also reopening of another case that led to the shutdown of Phantom Films. The survivor in this case is considered to be the game changer. Talking of the girl who faced sexual harassment from Vikas Bahl, Anurag Kashyap, who started the company, has spoken about not being able to do enough for the survivor. But sources claim that the girl was asked to keep quiet— Vikas Bahl left Mumbai and stayed away from the city for almost six months. Madhu Mantena, the business head of the company, convinced the girl who had threatened to go to Reliance Entertainment. Anurag did not want to be seen in the same frame as Vikas and was conspicuous by his absence from all Phantom events, which involved the latter.
Coming back to the survivor, who decided to come out and talk about it just around the time Phantom was getting dissolved, does not serve any purpose. There is a murmur in the media to boycott Vikas and his film, Super 30 which is slated for release. A lot of media professionals are of the opinion that Vikas should be treated like an untouchable. His Queen heroine Kangana Ranaut, who's also going to compete with him at the box office on January 25, has also spoken of his inappropriate behaviour and many attribute it to the fact that Hrithik Roshan is in his film.
She reportedly said, "Totally believe her, even though Vikas was married back in 2014 when we were filming Queen, he bragged about having casual sex with a new partner every other day…I don’t judge people and their marriages but you can tell when addiction becomes sickness...he partied every night and shamed me for sleeping early and not being cool enough...I often told him off…he was scared of me but still every time we met socially greeted and hugged each other.. he’d bury his face in my neck… hold me really tight and breathe in the smell of my hair...it took me great amount of strength and effort to pull myself out of his embrace, he’d say…“I love how you smell K...“I could tell something is wrong with him…I believe this girl...but what is sad is that now that Phantom has dissolved many are attacking him, even though the girl asked for help long ago, that time the story was conveniently killed but I supported her at that time as well, you can see my media interaction during one of my brand endorsement interaction, I thought the movement would catch up but I was wrong…at that time Vikas had come to me with a script about a gold medalist from Haryana…When I supported the girl, he stopped talking to me.
“I didn’t mind losing out on a good script and I never called him either; I was determined to say what I felt was right ...but the matter was pushed under the carpet and I didn’t hear any updates about the same.” “It's amusing after the news of Phantom dissolution many are finding the courage to attack him…shame on such a society…go look at yourselves in the mirror bunch of cowards…attacking powerless men won’t begin a movement...either we do it or we don’t...Let’s not be opportunists…. if we are a shit society, let’s accept at least have that much honestly within yourself...selective outrage will only serve as entertainment, this will just be tabloid gossip and nothing else..."
Actor Hrithik Roshan who initially played the ignorant card has come out with a detailed statement on Vikas Bahl. Though he has not mentioned the name, he tweeted, "It is impossible for me to work with any person if he/she is guilty of such grave misconduct. I am away and have access to only sporadic information. I have requested the producers of Super 30 to take stock of the apparent facts and take a harsh stand if need be. This is not to be hushed or brushed under the carpet. All proven offenders must be punished and all exploited people must be empowered and given strength to speak up."
Does this mean the rest of the film that is left to be made or post production will be handed over to someone else and Vikas Bahl’s name scrapped? Though there is nothing official about it, Hrithik Roshan seemed to have hinted at it.
There are many in the film industry who've had several bad experiences, either with actors, co-ordinators or producers or directors, but are not speaking out. What is heartening is that any or everyone is being taken to the cleaners if they even attempt dismissing the issue. This was evident when Amitabh Bachchan laughed off a question put to him about the Nana and Tanushree controversy, saying that his name is either Nana nor Tanushree Dutta. Some like writer Chetan Bhagat and actor Rajat Kapoor have confessed to their transgressions and apologised. Tanmay Bhatt has reportedly resigned from AIB. Names are being called out and even the industry members are taking steps to correct the lapses made by them, like CINTAA who are really-investigating the case of Tanushree. The point is does it just end with the actresses calling out their abusers. Or do we see even actors joining the #MeToo movement?
(The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist)