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Indian actor Nana Patekar
Image: Getty Images/G. Cattermole

Bollywood's #MeToo moment?

Murali Krishnan New Delhi
October 4, 2018

The Indian film industry is being forced to answer tough questions as Tanushree Dutta, a former Miss India, has accused Bollywood actor Nana Patekar of sexually harassing her in 2008. Murali Krishnan reports.


Sexual harassment scandals shock Bollywood

Sexual harassment accusations by Tanushree Dutta, an actor and former Miss India, against Bollywood legend Nana Patekar (pictured above) have turned the spotlight on the issue of male dominance and exploitation of women in the Indian film industry.

In a recent interview, Dutta said that Patekar, a 67-year-old award-winning actor who has been featured in many hit Bollywood movies, harassed her during the shooting of a 2008 movie, Horn Ok Please.

"Everyone knows that Nana Patekar has always been disrespectful to women. The film industry knows that he has physically assaulted female actors, and even molested them," 34-year-old Dutta alleged, adding that she was harassed after she rejected Patekar's advances.

Apart from his powerful acting in movies, Patekar is also known for his social and humanitatrian work.

Rajendra Shirodkar, Patekar's laywer, rejected Dutta's allegations as baseless. "We have served her a legal notice demanding an apology," Shirodkar told DW.

Despite Patekar's denial, Dutta's accusations have turned a spotlight onto the issue of sexual harassment in Bollywood. Many are dubbing it the #MeToo in Bollywood, referring to the global movement sparked by rape allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

The Weinstein case encouraged thousands of women to break silence against their own experience of sexual harassment at the workplace.

"The thing is that our country has become so hypocritical, and people constantly ask why the #MeToo movement is not happening in India; it won't happen unless and until you acknowledge what happened with me in 2008," Dutta said in an interview.

Read moreBlame victims and the West – India's way of justifying sexual assaults?

Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta
Bollywood actor Tanushree DuttImage: Getty Images/AFP

A culture of silence?

Although most film industry stalwarts have stayed silent over Dutta's accusations, some have expressed their concern over the overall issue of sexual harassment in Bollywood.

While Bollywood superstars such as Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan chose to stay away from the controversy, other popular actors like Swara Bhasker, Priyanka Chopra, Sonam Kapoor, Farhan Akhtar, and famous director Anurag Kashyap have backed Dutta.

"This thread is very telling. @janiceseq85 was there at the time of the incident being debated today. Even when #TanushreeDutta had career concerns to keep quiet 10 years ago she did not & her story hasn't changed now. Her courage should be admired, not her intention questioned," Farhan Akhtar, an actor and director who also founded the MARD (the Men Against Rape and Discrimination) organization, wrote on Twitter, responding to another tweet by Janice Sequeira, a Mumbai-based media consultant.

In her tweet, Sequeira wrote: "Some incidents that take place even a decade ago remain fresh in your memory. What happened with #TanushreeDutta on the sets of 'Horn Ok Please' is one such incident – I was there. #NanaPatekar."

Responding to Akhtar's tweet, Priyanka Chopra said, "Agreed… the world needs to #BelieveSurvivors."

Actor Freida Pinto lauded Dutta in an Instagram post, saying that she is "setting an example for many others who probably need your grit and courage to speak up. I support Tanushree Dutta."

But influential Bollywood figures such as Salman Khan and Aamir Khan are not as forthcoming.

"I'm not aware of this, my dear. Let me know and understand what is happening... If we see what is going on, I am not aware of what you are talking about," Salman Khan told India Today TV on September 27.

Aamir Khan told local media he could not comment on the issue "without knowing the veracity of something, or the details of something…"

"I don't think I can comment on it. It's not right for me... But I would like to say that whenever something like this does happen, it's a really sad thing. Now whether this has happened, that is for people to investigate. I don't think we can comment on it," he said.

Read more:

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@dwnews - Sexual assaults in India discussed on social media

Male domination in Bollywood

Today, women working in the Indian film industry wield more power than ever, but Bollywood remains largely a male-dominated area.

Bollywood researchers and film critics say sexual harassment is quite widespread in the film industry.

"The 'casting couch' exists in Bollywood but people seldom talk about it. For a woman to work in films, she needs personal contacts, along with an aspiration to be successful. But things are changing," a film critic told DW on condition of anonymity.

Shobhaa De, a novelist and columnist, says many female actors in Bollywood have faced what Dutt revealed in her interview, but they have chosen to remain silent.

"Those who did object paid a price for opening their mouth. So far, only a few Bollywood stars have expressed solidarity with Tanushree and the #MeToo movement," De said.

Bollywood epic causes uproar

'A no is a no'

Swara Bhasker, an award-winning Indian film actor, told DW she herself was harassed and stalked by a film director during an outdoor movie shoot several years ago.

"We need to be aware of sexual harassment at the workplace and be able to both to call it out and to keep our own behavior under check," Bhasker said.

Last year, a prominent female actor was bundled into a car and sexually assaulted for several hours before being dumped on the street. The police subsequently arrested Dileep, an actor, for allegedly orchestrating the abduction and assault.

In the past few years, a number of Bollywood figures such as Radhika Apte, Kangana Ranuat and Mallika Sherawat came out in public to talk about their experience of sexual harassment.

Although authorities are investigating Dutta's claims – which remain unproven – her allegations have the potential to trigger Bollywood's own #MeToo movement.

Much depends on the response of Bollywood's star actors and filmmakers, but Lakshana N Palat, an India Today columnist, says, "A no is a no. With or without Amitabh Bachchan saying it out loud."

Read more: Bollywood film on menstrual hygiene 'PadMan' banned in Pakistan

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