What Has #MeToo Actually Changed in Bollywood in 2018?
It’s been about 12 weeks since Tanushree Dutta gave a TV interview that kicked off what would be India’s #Metoo movement. Her allegations of a ten-year-old incident of sexual harassment against Nana Patekar sparked off debate and controversy but more importantly, heralded a change across industries. Until Tanushree spoke, it was unthinkable that the powerful here would ever be held accountable for their sexual misdeeds, or that women would publicly talk about being sexually harassed.
The thing about courage is that people don’t need truckloads of it; a pinch of it at the right time is enough. Reading and hearing other people talk about similar experiences awakened lots of memories for many women and gave them the courage to speak up. Nobody spoke up expecting retribution or justice to start with, they just wanted the world to know.
Even though it’s not been very long since the movement reached Bollywood, the question that everyone already seems to be asking is ‘has anything changed’? Unfortunately this doesn’t have a simple 'yes' or ‘no’ answer.
What has changed is that the various associations within the industry have sent out clear signals that allegations of sexual harassment, if reported to them, will not be brushed under the carpet. The Producers Guild of India (PGI), the Screen Writers Association (SWA), IFTDA (Indian Film and Television Director's Association) and the Cine & TV Artists Association (CINTAA), have all taken steps in the right direction by setting up committees to probe allegations of sexual harassment.
All PGI members have also been asked to implement India’s Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, which supersedes the Vishakha guidelines that are more relevant to a traditional office set-up.
The past two months have seen some strict action taken where the perpetrators were part of more corporate set-ups. Ashish Patil, a senior resource at Yash Raj Films was sacked following multiple accusations against him. Kwan, the talent management agency asked their founder Anirban Blah to step aside while the other partners bought out his stake in the company.
All of Bollywood isn’t this organised though and given its nature, it isn’t always easy to initiate action where power resides with a few individuals. With freelance talent like actors, singers and directors, the role played by associations becomes even more important in the larger scheme of things, because these are the only bodies that a victim can turn to for justice.
In the absence of concrete evidence in most cases, committees within these associations will at least listen to testimonies and take action against repeat offenders. Sajid Khan’s one-year suspension from IFTDA might seem like a mild rap on the knuckles but it’s important to remember that this is just the first step.
What happens post that one-year ban really is up to the people that make up the industry. Sajid Khan also stepped down from his directorial post of the film (Houseful 4) he was doing. He’s been publicly shamed and when he’s available after a year, it will be interesting to see how many can shrug off that reputation to sign him on. Nana Patekar also distanced himself from the same project.
Aamir Khan walked out of Mogul in light of the allegations against director, Subhash Kapoor and for now the film is on the back-burner. Anu Malik was taken off the jury panel of Indian Idol after having served as a judge on the show for nine seasons.
Casting director, Mukesh Chhabra was suspended by Fox Star that was bankrolling his directorial debut, and was also replaced on India Film Project, a content creation festival held in Mumbai. A note on social media signed by eleven prominent female filmmakers collectively said that they wouldn’t work with proven offenders, urging others to do so as well.
That’s as far as we’ve gotten with hard commitments from the powers-that-be. It’s a start. People are wary of working with predators and for production houses that want to hire women, even the presence of a ‘suspected’ predator could be a spanner in the works. That in itself is the beginning of a slow and long process of establishing what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour. Nothing hits home as much as loss of work.
Has behavior on the ground changed? That really depends on whom you ask. There are stories coming out of women not being given opportunities because they are being seen as liabilities and potential risks in a male dominated industry. This is more pronounced with outdoor production schedules that involve overnight travel and stay, sometimes for long periods of time.
The ‘prevention vs. cure’ approach is a typical kneejerk reaction from an industry that has a 100-year-old history of patriarchy.
Predators are afraid, victims have been emboldened and employers are more aware. People are getting educated, and men are trying to understand what’s changed. So, are we in a better place? You be the judge.