A series of Bollywood actresses are coming forward with stories about sexual harassment in India’s film industry, but there are scant hopes the #metoo movement will be embraced.
Tanushree Dutta is the latest actress to speak out about the so-called ‘casting couch’ mentality in Bollywood.
She alleges a famous Indian actor, Nana Patekar, came on set while she was filming a dance scene in a 2008 movie, asked to be included in the scene and demanded that ‘vulgar’ dance moves were included in the dance, including a movement where he lay on top of her.
Patekar’s lawyers have accused her of making up the claims.
She first voiced her complaints at the time of filming and was chased off set one night by a mob of men who jumped on and smashed the windows of her car.
Dutta has not had any film roles since then, and has emigrated to the US.
A decade later, she’s repeating her story in the hope people will believe her, and she’s gained support on social media.
Bollywood mega-star Priyanka Chopra, who has 23 million Twitter followers, tweeted her support.
#Metoo only works in Hollywood, Bollywood actress says
Swara Bhasker is a Bollywood actress who has spoken out in support of women.
She told local media women in the Indian film industry have even less power than young Hollywood actresses.
“It is just so much more convenient to silence the victim by convincing or coercion and carry on with the day’s work,” she said.
“These easy-breezy comparisons to #metoo in Hollywood may make people feel more righteous but they fail to recognise the particular power structures that operate in Bollywood.”
Bollywood is dominated by family and personal connections.
Unlike in Hollywood, where actors can come up through the ranks via a more formal process involving film schools, auditions and acting on stage, Bollywood film roles are more often given to youngsters with the right connections.
That leaves plenty of room for the abuse of power.
In 2017, New Delhi’s High Court acquitted film director Mahmood Farooqui of rape.
The court found the woman’s expression of “no” before the sexual act began was “feeble” and therefore the act could not be considered rape.
The judgement read: “Instances of woman behaviour [sic] are not unknown that a feeble ‘no’ may mean a ‘yes’.”
The way women are portrayed on-screen in Bollywood movies has also been criticised.
Bollywood is notorious for storylines where a woman is chased or pursued by a man until she gives in to his advances.
“Hiding behind the euphemism of romance, mainstream Bollywood has been promoting serious crimes against women like stalking, abduction and even rape,” wrote Bushra Tariq in a 2017 piece about Bollywood’s problem with women.
“The idea of romance in Bollywood spins around the continued insistence on attention by men, as women’s consent is deemed immaterial.”
In the wake of support from some high-profile actors on social media, Dutta has hit out at big-name actors and producers who continued to work with Patekar after she accused him of sexual harassment.
“If such big stars will keep working with these culprits then there’s no hope for any movement to happen,” she said.