“Secrets Aren’t Healthy; Get Them Out”: Tanushree Dutta on #MeToo

She was speaking at the ‘We the Women’ event which also had journalists Sandhya Menon and Barkha Dutt on the panel.

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 The panel at the ‘We the Women’ event, comprised journalists Sandhya Menon and Barkha Dutt.

“Ten years ago, when I filed a police complaint against Nana Patekar, the media narrative was hostile, outright derogatory – even scandalous. The film industry of course stayed silent. So, I had to come out with my account,” said Tanushree Dutta, speaking at a panel discussion in Bengaluru on Sunday, 7 October. The panel at the ‘We the Women’ event, comprised journalists Sandhya Menon and Barkha Dutt.

Dutta, who sparked a crucial debate on sexual harassment at the workplace, with her allegations against veteran actor Nana Patekar, and filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, said, “I’ve now become the ‘problem woman’ after coming out.”

“For Horn Ok Pleasssse I was chased for 3 months to feature in a song, until I agreed. After all, we women can’t be too choosy or picky, we don’t make as much money as our men counterparts, and we can’t afford the luxury of being ‘unprofessional’ – so I decided to go ahead with the song. Nana wasn’t even supposed to be on the film set – his vibe made me uncomfortable – but it was just weird behaviour after all, so I couldn’t really say anything,” Dutta told the audience.

“Nana was sizing me up to see what kind of woman I am – it’s typical predatory nature – these predators don’t behave like that with just anybody – they see who they can target and get away with. When Nana decided to grab me by the arm on the fourth day, asking the choreographer to go away – on the pretext of teaching me how to dance, I complained to the producer, the filmmaker – and I had brought it up the previous day, that Nana’s presence was making me uncomfortable on set. But they said he’s a senior actor and they can’t do anything about it.”
Tanushree Dutta, Actress

Instead of making a safe space for Dutta to continue her work, the filmmakers introduced a dance step that would allow Dutta’s harasser, i.e. Patekar, to actually maul her, paw her – molest her. When Dutta raised a hue and cry, she was slut-shamed, her account disbelieved, and aspersions were cast on her character and work ethic.

To those who (continue) to ask, ‘Why didn’t Tanushree complain earlier?’ – Barkha Dutt’s answer comes pat, “Tanushree did complain – and nothing happened.”

Over the course of the conversation, Dutta said that it is entirely commonplace in Bollywood to be harassed and for people to be obnoxious. She has been sent legal notices by Nana Patekar and Vivek Agnihotri, for calling out their predatory behaviour.

Sandhya Menon went on to say what many women have been feeling of late, “We are just tired.”

Menon also said, “Women journalists started the chatter by calling out predators among their peer group and went on to call out perpetrators at the editor-level.” Menon too faces a defamation suit, like so many survivors who have bravely come out.

To the question, why don’t women report as often as they should / could, Menon has to say, “We normalise it so much – this predatory behaviour is so commonplace – that we often don’t even think of reporting – we discuss it with our friends over lunch, for instance – and let it go. That’s how normalised it is.”

What made Tanushree Dutta ‘disappear’ from Bollywood for all these years? Dutta says, “Immediately after that incident (involving Nana Patekar) – I kept looking over my shoulder – I would recall how I was manipulated, humiliated, and my car attacked by a mob. I led a spiritual life for eight years to heal.”

Does Bollywood have more Nana Patekars and Vivek Agnihotris? Dutta says, “Nana, Vivek – they are small fish – the big fish and big shots are still lurking out there.”

To all the women who are struggling to come to terms with their experiences of sexual harassment and assault, Dutta says that secrets are never healthy for a human being. “Secrets are like poison, so get it out.”. Looking at the brighter side, Dutta notes the ‘safety in numbers ’– “now that so many women are coming out, it helps – how many legal notices can they send us?”

Even as survivors get slapped with defamation suits, are disbelieved and shamed, there lies a sliver of hope in the form of a giant women’s collective – with more Tanushrees speaking truth to power – and smashing the patriarchy every day.

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