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Dear Bollywood, believe the victim

It’s a shame that no one has pointed out that the industry needs to figure out redressal mechanisms that won’t depend on the slow and overburdened legal process

mumbai Updated: Sep 30, 2018 00:20 IST
Deepanjana Pal
Deepanjana Pal
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Mahrashtra,Bollywood
The silence from the most powerful in Bollywood is damning — it shows they don’t want the industry to become safer for women, that they’re complicit in the victimisation. (HT FILE)

While watching American supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh spew fire and brimstone during the Senate hearing last week, it struck me that if Bollywood wants to make a film of this, we have a great candidate for the desi Kavanaugh in actor Nana Patekar. Patekar wouldn’t even have to tap into his formidable acting talent to get into character. After all, he knows what it’s like to have a woman come out of obscurity with allegations of sexual harassment that expose him to public scrutiny. Plus, he can weave in things he’s said in the past, like: “I know I get abusive, very abusive, when I’m angry. This isn’t the first time it has happened. I’ve tried repeatedly to curb my temper. But kya karoon? Main aisa hi hoon.” The actor said this in a 2009 interview, after he’d thrown a temper tantrum on the sets of Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti. Yes, that’s his idea of an apology.

Maybe the desi version of Kavanaugh’s hearing could be called Pink 2, with cameos from Amitabh Bachchan, Salman Khan and Aamir Khan. These three found inventive ways to not comment on Tanushree Dutta’s allegation that Patekar sexually harassed and intimidated her during the shooting of a film in 2008. When the topic was raised, Bachchan informed us his name is neither Nana Patekar nor Tanushree, which is breaking news for all those who have been confused about what exactly is the name of the bearded gent selling us everything from rice to televisions, and currently appearing in Thugs of Hindostan promos looking like a cut-price Geoffrey Rush from Pirates of the Caribbean.

The two Khans claimed, at separate events, that they are unaware of the Patekar-Dutta controversy and can’t comment without knowing the details of what actually happened. This is surprising because not knowing has never stopped Salman from saying things. Also, while his refusal to comment can pass for diplomatic, his body language was exactly the opposite: Salman rolled his eyes and enacted the facepalm emoji the moment Dutta’s name was uttered by a journalist. Fans will be happy to know this is more expression than the actor has been able to convey in Race 3 and Tubelight combined. Meanwhile, Aamir’s attempt at being simultaneously politically correct and non-committal was like watching someone get into a complicated yoga asana, and then not be able to disentangle themselves.

Even though Bollywood’s big hitters are maintaining a studious silence on the subject of sexual harassment in the Hindi film industry, a growing contingent of actors, directors and other film professionals have tweeted in support of Dutta. However, there is a tiny, uncomfortable detail here. Every celebrity has emphasised they’re backing Dutta because of journalist Janice Sequeira’s testimonial (Sequeira tweeted what she had seen as a young reporter on set, the day Patekar unleashed his ‘charm’ offensive on Dutta). Our stars believe Dutta because they trust Sequeira; not because they believe the victim.

Sequeira deserves all the applause she’s getting because she has almost single-handedly ensured Dutta’s story isn’t buried. However, Dutta shouldn’t need Sequeira’s championing to be considered credible. Patekar has a history of anger mismanagement, unprofessional behaviour and abusing women (remember how he treated Manisha Koirala and Ayesha Jhulka?). Yet, Dutta was the one held up to scrutiny and dismissed. That’s male privilege at work. When abusers claim innocence, they’re believed. When their victims speak up, they’re asked for proof.

Expecting support for the victim is the bare minimum we should demand of our celebrities. It’s a shame that so many have said nothing and no one has refused to work with Patekar, or pointed out that the industry needs to figure out redressal mechanisms that won’t depend on the slow and overburdened legal process. No one has spoken about their own experiences of sexism and misogyny in Bollywood. It’s almost as though Dutta’s encounter with Patekar is an anomaly.

Patekar is protected by the industry’s silence because his behaviour is the norm rather than the exception. The silence from the most powerful in Bollywood is damning — it shows they don’t want the industry to become safer for women, that they’re complicit in the victimisation. Perhaps their silence comes from the fear that their own misdeeds will be exposed. Or perhaps – and this is infinitely more worrying – they don’t think there’s anything wrong with the status quo.

First Published: Sep 30, 2018 00:20 IST