“It is only a matter of time before someone from the Indian film industry speaks out against sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement,” I told myself when the movement spread far and wide and took down big names in Hollywood. However, disappointment soon followed because no strong voice followed suit in India. That is until I chanced upon former actor and Miss India Tanushree Datta’s brave statement, calling out famous actor Nana Patekar for sexual harassment. The dirt that followed in the name of journalism and the deafening silence by most in Bollywood (save for some vocal female actors and maybe two male actors), however, showed a shameful mirror depicting the biting reality.
Here’s what happened: Tanushree Dutta decided to come down boldly and heavily on Nana Patekar for an incident that occurred ten years ago on a film set. Patekar had made Dutta uncomfortable all along and at one point wanted a change in choreography for the dance sequence being shot (which he wasn’t originally meant to be a part of) to get a sensual, intimate scene with Dutta. He made this request to his partner-in-crime, choreographer Ganesh Acharya. Dutta stormed out of the set and locked herself in her vanity van, which is when MNS party workers barged in and started banging on her door and smashing the windows of her car. She had to be escorted out with police protection. In a Twitter thread, journalist Janice Sequeira corroborated Dutta’s allegations. Patekar, on the other hand, laughed it off by saying there were around a 100 people present (because that automatically means entitled men will immediately fall back in line?) and threatened legal action.
I watched a couple of TV debates and read a few articles until I tired (and frustrated) myself into giving up. The toxic masculinity that predominates discourses of sexual harassment has already spread its wings, with people questioning Dutta’s motive behind her speaking about the incident ten years later. “She is doing it for publicity.” “She wants to appear in Big Boss and needs to generate buzz.” “She wants to make a comeback.” Anything you haven’t heard before?
While the #MeToo outrage in Hollywood led to beloved global star Kevin Spacey getting fired from the TV show House of Cards, of which he was the main lead, Bollywood continues to crumble and bumble when asked for an opinion. The responses range from “Neither is my name Tanushree nor Nana Patekar” (Amitabh Bachchan) to “I can’t comment until I know the veracity or facts of the incident” (Aamir Khan, Salman Khan). Seemingly woke celebrities suddenly lose their ability to speak up when the context is desi and related to someone they know.
Here are some points to ponder: why would a woman speak about the humiliation and traumatising incident she faced in public, whether it happened ten years ago, ten decades ago, or ten minutes ago? Publicity? Publicity for what, though? What are the social and ethical responsibilities of a celebrity when speaking about a current issue? Why does their support not stretch to a horrible pattern rampant in their industry (sexual harassment is an open secret)?
Coming back to the timing of Dutta’s accusations, she did speak up about it when the incident happened, but as you can unfortunately guess, nothing came out of it. To me, her only reason for speaking about it now is to set the record straight and hopefully provide courage to other women who have faced/are facing similar ordeals. She is expressing her truth, and that should be celebrated and applauded, not questioned all over again. Investigations and due diligence would and should take their course. Until that happens, I present to you two scenarios:
Do we wait for the survivor to prove she faced sexual harassment or do we expect the accused to prove himself not guilty? How we answer these questions is what defines the direction we’re taking as a society. Whether a woman speaks up about sexual harassment right after it happened or 20 years later, that trauma cannot be belittled.