CultureCinema #MeToo Exposes The Dark And Ugly Side Of Powerful Men In The Film Industry

#MeToo Exposes The Dark And Ugly Side Of Powerful Men In The Film Industry

The recent accusations against many influential, powerful men involved in the film industry reveals its toxic male-dominated work culture.

“What’s your favourite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it travelled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.”

These are the words of Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of Woody Allen wrote in her open letter on the sexual harassment she faced as a child from the Academy Award winning director-screenwriter. But Dylan’s accusation was never believed, accepted, or delivered justice. While her wounds kept being violated again and again, growing into scars on her self esteem, Woody Allen flourished in Hollywood, winning one Academy after another and being idolised by a blinded fan-base who would reiterate his dialogues like lines from the Bible. “You have no values. With you it’s all nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm, and orgasm”.

Before Harvey Weinstein came into the light, the industry already had Roman Polanski, Casey Affleck, Kevin Spacey and other big, reputed men, shrinking the spaces for women by predating on their rights. Men in a film industry were heroes, war soldiers, Presidents and entrepreneurs and women were always the love interests, the seductress who distracts them before the climax, the pieces of meat, the aesthetics. Suddenly, when the crimes started being unfolded, a big debate arose – can we separate the artist and the abuser?

Somewhere, the accounts of Pablo Neruda‘s history as a rapist was revealed, somewhere the secrets behind Eric Gill‘s art started spilling out and the stories of him abusing his daughters did come out of the closet. But the crowd hailed Midnight in Paris or Manchester by the Sea, unanimously declaring that you are allowed to get away with human rights violation if you are popular and powerful enough.

Also read: #MeToo Hits Indian Media – Women Journalists Are Sharing Their Stories of Workplace Harassment

Tanushree Dutta was crowned as Miss India 2004, a pageant which claims to award a woman for her grace, wit and poise. But soon after stepping into Bollywood, the trauma she faced at the sets of Horn Ok Please made her bid goodbye and leave in search of mental peace in mountains and Buddhist Monasteries, none of which would bring her justice or the fame she lost in the moment she accused Nana Patekar of sexual harassment which did not only lead to an irrevocable loss of a bright future in acting, but she also had to endure regionalism and hooliganism by local political groups. The voiceless Dutta had filed a complaint at the Cine & TV Artists Association already but in vain, till ten years later, she raised her voice again, only to begin a movement which shook the entire industry overnight.

According to Neeraj Ghaywan, the lack of female representation could be a valid reason behind the muffling of female voices in Bollywood.

One complaint followed another. Vikas Bahl, the co-founder of Phantom Films and three time National Award Winner, was accused by former employee of Phantom Films, of sexually harassing her on the sets of the movie Queen. Later the movie lead actress Kangana Ranaut accused him in support of the former employee of sexual misconduct. Following this, Nayani Dixit, the Kangana’s co-star in the movie, also accused him of sexual misconduct. Quite strangely, Queen was the film which had revolutionised Bollywood, with a tightly knit script about self-sufficiency, independence, freedom, and individuality of women, and had a single, strong female protagonist.

Neeraj Ghaywan wrote a beautiful post talking about how lack of female representation could be a valid reason behind the muffling of female voices in Bollywood. In brevity and Frances Dormand’s language, his well made point could be summed up as ‘Inclusion Rider’.

An anonymous victim shared screenshots and stories of Rajat Kapoor’s attempt at forcibly sexting with her, and trying to kiss her eight times. When the complaints started coming from multiple voices, the director who won a National Film Award for his film Ankhon Dekhi, a film ironically based on exploration of the true essence of existence, uttered a ‘kind’ apology for his crime.

Five women, including Sona Mohapatra accused Kailash Kher for touching them inappropriately or making lewd propositions.

Producer-Writer Vinta Nanda, famous for her path breaking television show Tara opened up about the horrendous details of being intoxicated, raped, and bruised by Alok Nath, who is famous for his choice of signing ‘sanskaari’ roles in Indian films and television shows.

Sandhya Mridul backed her up and also revealed her own experience of molestation by Alok Nath.

The movement has gone beyond Bollywood, and allegations have also been raised in the Marathi and South Indian film industries. An anonymous woman wrote to journalist Sandhya Menon about being sexually molested by Tamil lyricist, Vairamuthu while she was on a project. She wrote, “In the pretext of explaining lyrics, he came to me, hugged me and kissed me. I did not know what to do. I said OK sir, thank you and ran from his house.” The woman has claimed that Vairamuthu is being protected because of his “political connections, which he uses to often silence victims.”

#MeToo did not only prove to be movement about voicing sexual abuse, but also emotional and physical abuse that women face. Nagraj Manjule’s ex-wife Sunita Manjule opened up about the domestic abuse she faced in her marriage. While Manjule is appreciated more and more everyday for capturing the stories of caste discrimination on screen, his former wife has been earning a living as a domestic help after the divorce in 2012. “This is why he made me go for 2-3 abortions, and whenever I raised my voice for keeping the child, he thrashed me, with his bare hands, leather belt and sometimes, a log of wood,” Sunita added.

Is it time to bury to ‘item song’ culture which not only gives actors the liberty to misbehave with women, but also reduces the actresses to voyeuristic standards?

Allegations have also come up by a former model and former aspiring actress against Ashish Patil, Talent and Business Head of YashRaj Films of sexually exploiting her.

#MeToo comes a few months after Radhika Apte had spoken about casting couch and sexual harassment in Bollywood in a documentary on the film industry. A MidDay report quoted her as saying in the documentary, “Some people are regarded as Gods. They are so powerful that people just don’t think that my voice is going to matter, or people think that if I speak, probably my career is going to get ruined.”

Suhel Seth has been accused of sexual harassment by four women so far. One of them was an underage girl when the harassment took place. Two of the survivors also reveal that Seth sexually assaulted them.

Marathi award winning actress Usha Jadhav too shared shocking details of her own experience with casting couch and said it’s fairly common for the powerful men in the industry to ask for sexual favours. “I said something on the lines of, ‘What? I don’t have money’. He said, ‘No, no, no, no. It’s not about money, it’s about you sleeping with, maybe it can be a producer, maybe it can be a director, it can be both too.”

Feminism had never been about women controlling the power structure instead of the men, but the very absence of a power structure by itself. While #MeToo grows and claims the industry, its important to see how will Bollywood tackle the important questions which have come up.

Also read: Kashmiri Women Embrace #MeToo As They Come Out With Their Stories

Is it time to bury to ‘item song’ culture which not only gives actors the liberty to misbehave with women, but also reduces the actresses to voyeuristic standards? Is it time to push for representation of women in the crew and cast of the films, to change the male-lead orientation of Bollywood scripts, and to break the male-dominated work culture of the industry where consent is considered to be equal to coercion? In an industry owned by a handful of ‘powerful’ men, the less powerful will always suffer. And the weak were always the women till now, but not anymore.

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