India’s #MeToo movement is here as more and more women speak out!

Allegations of sexual harassment against Bollywood biggies, harrowing stories of abuse being shared on social media, have showcased that those in showbiz have not done enough to ensure a healthy work environment for women. It is time this changes and thorough and swift investigation is carried out so that people adopting double standards and living in ivory towers are exposed, writes SRISHTE SHARMA

Bollywood has shown a candle to society and it is time for it to set a strong precedent for others to follow. It appears there is no sexual harassment policy in film industry and many a time there is confusion as to what constitutes sexual harassment.

It all began with Tanushree Dutta who has become almost a mascot for #MeToo campaign and a familiar name these days in newspapers, social media and other news stories .She has become topic of the conversation after she accused Actor Nana Patekar for allegedly harassing her physically and mentally in 2008 during the shoot of ‘Horn Ok pleassss’. In her statements she has accused Nana Patekar and Vivek Agnihotri,Bollywood film director and producer, for making false statements against her, sending her legal notices and threatening her with physical violence from Goons from Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. According to Tanushree, she was very upset over this development and left for the USA after this incident. Now, she has returned to India nearly a decade after the incident, and has chosen to report the issue.

Born and brought up in a Bengali family, model turned actress Tanushree was very keen to become a renowned actress. She started with a career in modeling and finally won Femina Miss India in 2004, which made her eligible for Miss Universe. She was among the top ten at the Miss Universe pageant held at Quito, in Ecuador. This victory opened the doors of opportunities for her and she started getting offers for roles in movies and top modeling assignments. Her first movie, “Ashique banaya Aapne” was released in 2005, which brought her into the limelight and she became famous as a glamorous star. With this, her popularity grew and she received a lot of film offers.

The controversy over Tanushree’s allegations has become a massive media storm. Recently, Nana Patekar was contacted on the Mumbai airport and he has denied all charges against him, calling Tanushree a liar.

Support is pouring for Tanushri. Actor and producer Pooja Bhatt has extended full support to Tanushree. Anushka Sharma, Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Renuka Shahane and Varun Dhawan have also supported Tanushree while Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan have chosen to stay silent and away from controversy over this issue.  

Now a police complaint has been filed against Tanushree Dutta for allegedly defaming Bal Thackeray, MNS Head & Maharashtra Navnirman Sena .

Though some Bollywood actors are supporting Tanushree, most have chosen to stay mum on the issue, protecting their public image and interests. What will be the result of this controversy it’s yet to be seen but this case has made media to rethink about images of their favourite film artists. Whether Nana Patekar,s statement is true only time will tell. He has refused the allegations in recent interview and said, “Truth remains same as ten years ago. “His lawyer has also filled police complaint against Tanushree for defaming him. If Tanushree is wrong then why so many actresses have stood in support for her and if Nana Patekar is true then why Tanushree has blamed him. Is it to attract publicity? These questions are in everybody’s mind. It remains to be seen how this issue progresses, if the accused are proven guilty and what action is taken against them. This case will set a precedent for the course of action for all such future issues that may happen in Bollywood or any other industry.

In the meanwhile, Nana has sent a legal notice to Dutta who later filed a complaint with the police and also sought help from the Maharashtra Women Commission in the matter.

Debate growing

However, #MeToo is not only confined to Tanushree Dutta now. Bollywood is notorious for these types of allegations from young actresses who come here to establish themselves as top actresses but end up struggling. Either some of them surrender or leave this field. Tanushree’s outbursts have opened up the debate on this issue.

Support pouring

Many Bollywood celebs including Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Taapsee Pannu, Swara Bhasker, Sonam Kapoor, Anushka Sharma, Varun Dhawan among others are coming forward to share their views on the movement.  Recently Kangana Ranaut has confessed being allegedly sexually harassed by Film Director Vikas Behl during the shooting of ‘Queen’. “He hugged me so tightly, I had to literally push him to save myself”, Kangna said in an interview. He used to bury his head in her hair and would appreciate the smell of her hair.

Preity Zinta, who had fairy tale relationship with Ness Wadia also ended up accusing Wadia for molestation and mental harassment.  Priety  Zinta while supporting Tanushree has said that no woman would ever speak lie about being sexually harassed. She encouraged women to come out and report about sexual assault. Priety Zinta in her interview has asked women to come out openly.

As Tanushree Dutta’s case is getting heated more and more women are opening up in this “Me too movement” and latest Tanmaya Bhatt, co-Founder and CEO of (AIB) had to quit his job for not taking action against sexual harassment.

Sanskarri Alok Nath in dock

Vinita Nanda , writer of TV shows has accused Alok Nath, Veteran actor of TV shows, of rape twenty years ago. Nanda, best known for writing the highly popular soap opera of the 1990s, Tara, has accused the “most #Sanskaari person in the film and television industry” of rape. In a long post on her Facebook account, she reveals that the person in question was the main lead of Tara, who she describes as the “television star of that decade.”  Asserting that this actor was “alcoholic, shameless and obnoxious,” she claims that he would sexually harass the female lead of Tara, which ultimately led to his departure from the show.

In the later portion of her post, however, Vinita makes a shocking claim — of being brutally raped by this actor while she was heavily intoxicated. The 20-year-old incident took place after a party at his house wherein her drinks were mixed, she says in her post.  In her powerful post, the filmmaker gives a shout out to all those who have suffered sexual harassment ever in their lives. She writes, “I have waited for this moment to come for 19 years. I shout out to each one of you who have suffered at the hands of predators to come out and say it aloud. Don’t hold yourselves back.”

With all this, the #Metoo movement is picking up in India and this too is encouraging women to come out with their experiences. Priety Zinta has encouraged women to file Police complaints against sexual harassment. Kangna Ranaut has also come out in full support for Tanushree. Tanushree,s bold statement against Nana Patekar has perhaps given courage to other ladies in Bollywood to raise their voice too.

Setting an example

Aamir Khan has opted out of a film on the ground that it’s helmed by someone who has a pending sexual harassment case on him. Twitter users were quick to speculate that Aamir is talking about Mogul, a film on late founder of T-Series Gulshan Kumar. Subhash Kapoor was expected to direct the film whose sexual harassment case is sub-judice.

Earlier, Aamir took to Twitter late on Wednesday to announce his decision. His official statement says, “Two weeks ago, when traumatic #MeToo stories began emerging, it was brought to our attention that someone we were about to begin work with has been accused of sexual misconduct. Upon enquiry we found that this particular case is sub-judice, and that the legal process is in motion. So, without casting any aspersions on anyone involved in this case, and without coming to any conclusions about these specific allegations, we have decided to step away from this film.”

Bollywood celebrities in sexual offence

  1. Jeetender: Veteran Bollywood actor Jeetendra was accused of sexually harassing his cousin, who has come forward to file a police complaint 47 years after the alleged incident. Jeetendra, whose real name is Ravi Kapoor, is the son of the victim’s father’s sister.

The victim made the allegation in a police complaint filed with Himachal Pradesh’s Director General of Police. As per the complaint, the incident took place in January 1971, when the victim was 18 and Jeetendra was 28. It happened when he “arranged” for the victim to join him from New Delhi to Shimla on the set of his movie without the complainant’s “awareness”.  The victim has claimed that on the night they reached Shimla, Jeetendra returned to the room in an inebriated state, joined the two separate beds and sexually assaulted her.

  1. Shiney Ahuja: The actor known for films like Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Gangster, Life in a Metro and Bhool Bhulaiyaa was accused by his domestic help of raping her in 2009. The charges were later retracted and Ahuja was released on bail.

  1. Nana Patekar: Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta, who has accused actor Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her on a film set in 2008, has filed a police complaint over the incident. In the complaint, Ms Dutta has also named choreographer Ganesh Acharya, who was involved in the project. Nana Patekar, who has firmly denied the charges, had earlier sent Ms Dutta a legal notice to withdraw the allegations and apologise. Ms Dutta, 34, filed the police complaint at Oshiwara police station, located at Mumbai’s Andheri West area on Saturday. She says Mr Patekar, 67, behaved inappropriately on the sets of a song sequence for the 2008 film ‘Horn OK Pleassss’.

  1. Vikas Bahl: The Queen director has been accused of sexually assaulting a female employee of his company Phantom Films, first reported in 2017. The production house that didn’t take a stand for months, announced its dissolution last week.

  1. Madhur Bhandarkar: The director of several critically acclaimed films was accused by a model and actor of rape with the promise of casting her in his films in 2004. She later decided to not pursue the case and was even arrested for hiring a contract killer to murder Bhandarkar.

  1. Chetan Bhagat: Chetan Bhagat has been accused of sexual misconduct. A woman shared a conversation with Chetan on Twitter where he was trying to woo her while she stuck to the fact that he’s kidding and he’s married.

  1. Hritik Roshan: The #MeToo storm has taken over India and sexual predators and harassers are being uprooted, and brought to light. Actor Kangana Ranaut has said “I am referring to Hrithik Roshan, people should not work with him as well.” Hrithik and Kangana have had much mudslinging and a slew of legal notices in the past. While Kangana insisted that she and Hrithik had a torrid affair during the filming of Krrish 3, Hrithik denied it completely and said that she was defaming him.

  1. Kailash Kher: Singer Sona Mohapatra has accused singer-composer Kailash Kher of sexual misconduct, claiming he once placed his hands on her thigh. Mohapatra, who is married to singer-composer Ram Sampath, tweeted about Kher’s misbehaviour during an official meet. “I met Kailash for coffee in Prithvi Café to discuss a forthcoming concert where both our bands were playing and after the usual, a hand on my thigh with lines like, ‘You’re so beautiful’, ‘Feel so good that a musician got you (Ram) not an actor’. I left not soon after,” Mohapatra wrote.

  1. Alok Nath: TV writer-producer Vinita Nanda and actress Sandhya Mridul have claimed that Nath “lunged at her” in a drunken stupor and constantly harassed her during the making of a telefilm in the ‘90s. However, he has denied allegations of sexual assault leveled against him saying, “Neither I am denying this nor do I would agree with it. It must have happened, but someone else would have done it. Well, I do not want to talk much about it as for the matter if it has come out, it will be stretched.” The incident took place 20 years ago after a party at Nath’s house. The writer-producer alleged she was ‘violated endlessly’.

  1. Sajid Khan: The latest in the long line of well known personalities to be accused of sexual harassment is director Sajid Khan, known for his films such as Housefull and Humshakals. Incidentally, he is the brother of another famous director, Farah Khan. Three women have spoken about the harassment they faced at the hands of Sajid. These include actor Rachel White, assistant director Saloni Chopra and a journalist. Saloni wrote in harrowing detail of harassment she faced at his hands, which included talk of whether she would ever get a breast job done, how sex was really a mental connection and how she was foolish in thinking that casting couch was about one-time sex and that it would end after that and how he wanted her to be a director’s assistant and not an assistant director. In the wake of the allegations, Actor Akshay Kumar, who just returned to India from Italy, has cancelled the shoot of Housefull 4, which was slated to take place in Mumbai. The decision also involved the consideration that one of the actors in the under-production film is Nana Patekar, who was also accused of sexual harassment by Tanushree Dutta. Akshay Kumar has made it clear to the producers and kept his foot down that he will not work with the accused until investigations are over, since the accusations are very serious and grave in nature. Meanwhile, Sajid Khan has officially stepped down as the film’s director.

Trump mocks

Ironically, however, the US President Donald Trump has mocked the “#MeToo” movement, saying that he needs to censor himself due to the rules of this movement, which is being enforced by the press. “There’s an expression, but under the rules of #MeToo, I am not allowed to use that expression anymore. I can’t do it,” Trump said at a mid-term election rally in Pennsylvania, and then he pointed at the phrase “the girl that got away”.

“It’s the person that got away. The old days, it was a little different than Pennsylvania to it,” Trump said referring to the GOP’s inability to win presidential elections earlier.

Pointing to the media, Trump said he would use the original phrase, except for the media. “I would do it except for these people up there. They would say, did you hear what President Trump said? Did you hear what he said?” he said imitating reporters.

“So, there is an expression, but we’ll change the expression. Pennsylvania was always the person that got away. That’s pretty good,” he said amidst applause from the audience.

#MeToo was long due

The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, which came into effect in 2013, covers the kind of women employed on a contractual basis on a film set — actors, assistants or technicians. Each film company, like other companies in India, is required to have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) in place.  Ideally, all producers should come together and nominate one member of their individual ICCs to form a new overall ICC. The committee should have a third-party member not belonging to the film industry who makes sure there is no bias.  In the absence of an ICC, the alternative for a victim is to go to a local complaints committee.  The voluntary private organisations like the Cine & TV Artistes Association (CINTAA) or the Producers Guild of India can pitch in to take legal action against the accused or file a complaint on behalf of the victim. They can also build moral pressure.  Along with industry members, some people have taken more active steps, like contemplating not to work with those accused of sexual misconduct. The Mumbai Film Festival, for example, has dropped one of Kapoor’s films from its lineup this year. However, more steps are required. It is time the moment #MeToo gains more momentum so that guilty meet their nemesis, evil doors are punished and complaints given justice.