By Subhash K. Jha
Thanks to one doughty damsel in distress, Bollywood and India have found their #MeToo voice. And about time too. I don’t know where this naming and shaming will stop. But predatory behaviour will now be very controlled, if not entirely extinct, in work places.
If we talk about Bollywood — because that’s where the revolution has hit the hardest — the really Big Guns are well protected from exposure. What we are exposing are the small fish — minor players in the paradigm of perversity. So okay, Sajid Khan and Vikas Bahl are not really small players in the game. But they are not the actual movers and shakers.
The rot goes much deeper than them. Some of the most respected, revered and iconic names are the biggest exploiters. And really, how far down the road do you want to go to dig out the dirt? It’s really up to the #MeToo movement to keep up its momentum. Because some of the most legendary names revelled in sexual exploitation.
There was one of Bollywood’s most honoured filmmakers who would sleep with all his heroines, would get drunk and slobber over women’s bosoms which he affectionately called “duddhu”. His cronies smirked and chuckled. They, perhaps, had no choice. They had their careers to think of.
Male actors have considered it a matter of entitlement to do what they like with women who work with them. A prominent leading lady of the 1960s tell me: “Of course, it happened. The bigger they were the more entitled they felt.”
There was the brother of the “duddhu”-obsessed hero who was extremely rough and crude with the heroines who didn’t oblige.
Or take one of India’s first superstars who had the girls across the country in a collective swoon. His behaviour with women was so shocking and shameful he would most certainly qualify as a prominent harasser in the current #MeToo movement. During his time, pinched bottoms of heroines was an accepted part of the entertainment business.
Heroes openly bragged about their conquests. Indian cinema’s he-men would turn the pages of film magazines and point to the heroines they had conquered. They still brag. The intense hero cracks up telling his friends loudly about the women he has slept with. The irony of this deep-rooted misogyny is that some of the big names react with righteous indignation about those culprits who are named and shamed, while they themselves are guilty of widespread exploitation.
And it won’t stop. The #MeToo movement will. They won’t. No one will point a finger at the Big Guns because big-name actresses, who have suffered in the initial stages of their careers, won’t call out those who have exploited them.
A big leading lady told me: “Of course, I’ve been through it. But I can’t complain. I am where I am and it’s best to not rake up the past. No one rapes anyone. If you feel like giving in, you do. It’s as simple as that.”
So, only those who have not “made it” will come forward. Their voices are being heard, of course. But none of these has the clout and power to push the movement to the next level.
Swara Bhaskar spoke about a director who harassed her during a long outdoor shoot without naming him. “Because he is not doing any work as far as I know. I don’t want him to get publicity if I call him out,” she said.
I am sure the director must have wiped the sweat from his brow on hearing this. But if selective shaming, and that too via several anonymous accounts, is all that the #MeToo movement has to offer in Bollywood, then I am afraid the movement will die down for want of heft.
There will be no Harvey Weinstein in India because there is no Ashley Judd calling him out.
(Views expressed are personal. Subhash K. Jha can be reached at [email protected])