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Hollywood introspects after predatory sexual behaviour, but not Bollywood

At least this epidemic of exposing predatory behaviour in Hollywood is now being treated, even as it rightly transmits to other fields like the media and politics.

columns Updated: Nov 24, 2017 23:54 IST
sexual harassment,Hollywood sexual predators,Kevin Spacey
The sexual harassment and assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein that rocked Hollywood and sparked a flurry of allegations in other American industries, as well as the political arena, are reaching far beyond U.S. borders(AP)

In recent weeks, sexual harassment allegations have sprouted in Hollywood like youth leaders in Gujarat. Los Angeles seems to have discovered a teeming cast of villains within its own ranks, matching the multiplicity found in the superhero franchise productions that populate screens worldwide.

Given the sheer number of actors, directors, producers, even studio honchos, being revealed in their debauched shame, you have to wonder if the next Oscars will have an added category: Academy Award for Best Actor Outed as a Predator. There’s even an app for that: the Celebrity Perv Apology Generator generates lines like “As a male feminist, harassment is completely unacceptable — especially when people find out about it.”

What’s clear is that years of silence by superstars led to this unchecked phenomenon of molestation and more; allowing the monsters to prey upon the vulnerable. Whether these predators went after women (see producer Harvey Weinstein, etc etc ) or men (actors Kevin Spacey, George Takei), they were given a pass. The chorus of ‘courage’ we hear now seems to have been released from an echo chamber where only suitably odious (and justified) targets like Donald Trump could be reviled.

So, if a Meryl Streep suddenly “speaks out”, her quiescence previously ought to leave most speechless. What’s happening now isn’t brave, just opportunistic.

At least this epidemic of exposing predatory behaviour in Hollywood is now being treated, even as it rightly transmits to other fields like the media and politics.

Curiously enough, while Hollywood tries to inoculate itself against this virus, it doesn’t seem to have infected Mumbai. Bollywood, which otherwise likes to borrow liberally from Hollywood, has seemed so indifferent, you might almost think that it has a greater concentration of saints than the Kumbh Mela. Or, again, it’s another film industry with a courage deficit.

That’s been pretty evident in recent days. Leading lights smiled brightly upon the International Film Festival of India in Goa despite a pair of films selected by its jury being politically bumped off the screening schedule.

Bollywood, of course, is facing its own trauma. As the Padmavati episode shows, censorship by the mob, not quite new to India, is alive and kicking films to the kerb. This is a film that deserves a viewing even if it offends some. However, Padmavati, like most productions of the Mumbai factory, will likely be misogynistic at its core. Almost certainly, it will revisit one of those tropes of Bollywood, of a woman, whether a legendary queen or a commoner, as an item number. Such objectification has been the hallmark of most Bollywood blockbusters. The larger picture of the hero as stalker, borderline sexual harasser, has played across cinemas for decades.

If Hollywood is introspecting over the ugliness it hides behind its silver screens, its Mumbai cousin appears to have little interest in that conversation. In that sense, it’s still groping in the dark.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Nov 24, 2017 16:46 IST