“If you spread your legs because he said ‘be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that”.
The above statement was surprisingly given by influential second wave feminist and author of The Female Eunuch Germaine Greer when she criticised the #MeToo movement, dismissing it as naive, first world ‘whingeing’. The movement had divided feminists into sub-sections, some of which believed that women who have consented for sexual engagements with a person in a powerful position in their industry under the pressure or fear of saving their careers have not been ‘molested’ since consent is binary. Others believed that when an industry is monopolised by few people with whom the power is concentrated, consent becomes a function of coercion and need not always be a free choice.
The idea of ‘choice’ has always shook the foundations of feminism as a movement, especially when we think of the differences between Marxist feminism and liberal feminism, in which the latter thinks porn and sex work can be liberating or empowering for women, while the former believes that commodification and sexualisation of women in capitalistic industries where the line between service/art and entitlement is blurred often leads to women having to give up their human rights in the name of work because their employers believe, selling sex is synonymous with selling the rights to their bodies.
No wonder, when the video which showed Tanushree Dutta opening up about the sexual harassment she faced from Nana Patekar was shared over social media, most of the people commenting believed that women like her who have had a history of doing films with sexual scenes should not be complaining about sexual harassment having no honour left to protect, since they already sold it for the silver screen.
This is no fresh news. Tanushree Dutta already spoke about the incident in 2008, explaining that the incidents happened during the shooting of Horn Ok Please following which Patekar also insisted on adding an intimate dance sequence featuring the actress and him, that was not earlier a part of the contract. Rakhi Sawant later replaced Dutta in the song, while Dutta complained against Patekar’s misbehaviour to producer Sami Siddiqui, director Rakesh Sarang and choreographer Ganesh Acharya which resulted into no action being taken.
Instead, having raised her voice against Patekar led to an unfortunate incident of goons belonging to Raj Thackeray led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) intimidating her and damaging her van, writing letters to different association of cine producers to blacklist Tanushree Data for accusing a senior actor for bad behaviour, and later changing the narrative of the issue by making it regional as it involved the defamation of whom they called the ‘pride of Maharashtra’.
when an industry is monopolised by few people with whom the power is concentrated, consent becomes a function of coercion.
Dutta went on to file a complaint with Cine and Television Artistes Association, demanding compensation for damage of property and her reputation but refuting the allegations, Nana Patekar maintained, “Tanushree is my daughter’s age and I have no clues what made her say such things about me. I have been part of this film industry since the last 35 years and haven’t had anyone saying such things about me ever”.
Senior journalist Janice Sequeira, who was assigned by Aaj Tak and Headlines Today to cover ‘Behind the Scenes’ of a song being shot for this film back in 2008, writes on social media that she still has fresh memories of the incident even though it has been a decade. Janice writes,
“When I arrived, I was told shooting had been stalled because the actress, Tanushree Dutta was upset. As I entered the set, I could see that Tanushree was visibly upset about something. Nana Patekar, choreographer Ganesh Acharya and a man (who I later found was the film’s producer) were having a conversation, while 50-odd dancers sat waiting.
A while later, shooting resumed. Tanushree resumed work, and a couple shots later, Nana Patekar joined her. Not long after that, Tanushree walked off set. Shooting halted again. Tanushree remained locked in her vanity van, refusing to come out. Out of nowhere, goons turned up on set and began beating up the vanity van door. I was told the producers had called them to set to help get their money back. Eventually, cops arrived. Amidst this chaos, I got hold of Nana Patekar to get a sense of what was happening. All he said was, “Meri beti jaisi hai, mere beti jaisi hai”, which didn’t really make sense at that point.
Eventually, Tanushree’s parents arrived to pick her up. Her car was attacked, the windshield broken. I tried to get in touch with Tanushree to get her version of events. Around midnight, she asked me to come to her place. In tears, she narrated what happened.
She told me that after three days of rehearsals, Ganesh Acharya changed every step on the day of shoot. Nana Patekar was never meant to be part of the choreography, but coerced the producers into getting him to shake a leg with Dutta. Later, she said, a lewd dance step was introduced on the insistence of Nana Patekar, so he could touch her inappropriately. That’s where alarm bells rang, and Tanushree decided to walk off set. What she didn’t expect was the aggression shown by the producers.
The memory of my conversation with Tanushree Dutta, hours after the incident, is identical to the account she’s come out with now. How could a person’s version remain the same over a decade later if there wasn’t any truth to it? For everyone who’s either going to be ignoring or downplaying Tanushree Dutta’s account in the coming days, asking why she didn’t speak out earlier – she did. Interviews by Dutta were followed by a press conference called by Nana Patekar and the film’s producers where she was branded “unprofessional”.
This was a decade ago. It could have possibly been the first instance of a Bollywood actress calling out sexual predators, and her voice by silenced by more powerful men who continued to have flourishing careers. Now she’s found her voice again. Things aren’t the same anymore (even though, they aren’t exactly different either). The #MeToo movement has encouraged women to come out and speak about sexual misconduct in the West – if it’s in turn inspiring women in this country to speak out, so be it.”
Can Bollywood have its own #MeToo movement, with more actresses coming out to speak on sexual harassment or the normalised system of casting couch when an important man is in the position of the offender? It’s doubtful in an industry which runs on nepotism, family hierarchy, and sycophancy since solidarity with an important cause like this would mean breaking away from the leverage of strong networking.
In a country where 99% of rapes go unreported, the courage of voicing your experience is neither free of struggle nor as easy as the majority makes it seem.
From an industry which suffers from huge underrepresentation of women in the film crew, caters to the male gaze by limiting the significance of women in the scripts by assigning them roles which present them as weak, helpless creatures who are only sexually pleasing, has no acknowledgement of inherent privilege, and amplifies social stereotypes by selling people exactly what they believe in like every other capitalistic setup, justice is the last thing to expect.
In a country where 99% of rapes go unreported, the courage of voicing your experience is neither free of struggle nor as easy as the majority makes it seem like when they despise the trend of opening up about crimes which took place years ago. Rapes or any kind of sexual harassment, not only involve a violation of human rights but also a violation of self-esteem, a long struggle of confiding in people who point back at you with disbelief, the subconscious assessment of what would one lose for voicing their situation if the law fails to avenge them.
Since the criminal is often larger than the system, the repercussions of going back to the society which now knows your history and doubts if you asked for it and the strange label of ‘victim mentality’ that is pinned on your forehead forever remain as the start on your eternal process of recovery which neither legal justice nor social justice will ever be able to accelerate.
Featured Image Source: Miss Malini