#MeToo in Bollywood: Is it time for film units to have an intimacy director?
Indian cinema is no longer in an era when a kiss on the screen would mean two faces hidden behind a flower, or a couple’s romantic relationship on screen would be limited to snuggling up on a gondola ride. With intimacy — real intimacy — being shown in films and web series (though TV, as yet, remains ‘sanitised’), one wonders if Bollywood could use the services of a new breed of film unit member: an intimacy director.
Too early to say if it qualifies as a trend in Hollywood, an industry seemingly swamped by sexual harassment allegations, but, according to Rolling Stone magazine, a major studio has hired an intimacy director, named Alicia Rodis, for all its television series, and there are reports of similar hirings for ventures in the West. As #MeToo, the movement against sexual assault, becomes perhaps the hashtag of the decade, Bollywood has been singed badly, the accusations pouring out, and big names taking hits.
In Hollywood, influential people such as producer Harvey Weinstein and actor Kevin Spacey faced repercussions. In Bollywood, actor Nana Patekar, and filmmakers Vikas Bahl and Sajid Khan, among many others, have lost projects.
In this situation, could an intimacy director, someone who keeps people comfortable on the sets, be essential? Filmmaker Madhur Bhandarkar thinks so. “After the #MeToo movement, this will be something that everyone will be comfortable with. I’d prefer [this person] to be a woman,” says the filmmaker, whose films such as Chandni Bar (2001), Fashion (2008), and Heroine (2012) had plenty of intimacy.
“I’ve never known anyone having an intimacy director in Hindi films. We have a dance master, an art director, a song choreographer, all experts in their fields. Maybe the intimacy director can also tell what exactly he/she wants. So, it’s very necessary,” he says. Bhandarkar adds that he personally ensures that both the male and female actors are briefed about an intimate scene together, and that no discomfort creeps while it’s being shot.
And it’s a fact that even male actors might feel uneasy. Hollywood superstar Sylvester Stallone had hinted in interviews that he wasn’t very comfortable doing a shower scene with Sharon Stone in The Specialist (1994).
Actor Richa Chadha, who has done intimate scenes in her projects, wants “the Vishakha guidelines for sexual harassment implemented by every production house”. However, she isn’t so sure about an intimacy director, because she says, “Hollywood has better infrastructure (than Bollywood) in terms of everything, right from actors to union to set etiquette; to compare the two industries is a mistake. Although, ideally, we should have like a neutral HR person whom one can approach in case of harassment.”
Actor-filmmaker Pooja Bhatt, however, asserts that she herself is the “intimacy director” on any set. “I take pride in myself for giving a work environment [to my actors] where women feel as comfortable in a bikini as in a sari. I cast my unit as much for their temperament as for their skills. I’ve worked with everyone, from Bipasha Basu to Sunny Leone to John Abraham to Randeep Hooda… and having been an actor before I became a filmmaker, the ‘gaze’ of the unit is imperative to me,” says Pooja, who has made films such as Jism (2003), Jism 2 (2012), and Paap (2003).
Is it important for every director to take complete responsibility, like she does? “If one doesn’t want to take full responsibility, they shouldn’t become filmmakers. A filmmaker is a mother, father, a tyrant, a sage, a friend. One can’t produce a child and give the responsibility of its well-being to a stranger,” replies Pooja.
Bollywood trade analyst Atul Mohan opines, “A good and comfortable atmosphere on the sets of any film would eventually translate into good acting in front of the camera. An intimacy director will ensure that the code of conduct is adhered to, and no negative sentiment creeps into anyone’s mind.”
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