SEX IN THE STUDIO-2
Try as you may to prevent, this fire of #MeToo, will, in all likelihood, consume the Indian film industry.
None of the film journals of the industry have commented on the string of exposures that are erupting from the most unexpected quarters as hurt ladies have now joined hands to talk of their experiences to the Media.
It all started with Nana Patekar, then Vikas Behl, then Alok Nath, followed by Anu Malik, Srijit Mukherjee, Rohit Roy, Raghu Dixit, Kailash Kher, Rajit Kapoor, Ashish Patil, Subhash Kapoor, Subhash Ghai, Suhel Seth, and others
No major regional cinema is spared. Tamil Nadu is hit and in Malayalee cinema things have become so bad that actors have made open statements seeking the death of some female artists by name.
These forest fires have jumped the barriers and moved into the Central Government and into the Corporate Houses of Fort Mumbai.
M.J. Akbar, journalist-politician, is their first victim. The all knowing Smirti Irani has been coy enough to suggest that no harm should come to those women who are now disclosing the dark secrets of the Indian film industry. She would not elaborate further.
It is strange that most of the senior film artists of the Industry have maintained their silence, apprehending when lightening will straight them. The Members of Parliament like Hema Malini, Jaya Bachchan, Paresh Rawal, Shatrughan Sinha, Priya Dutt have their lips tight. And so are ex MPs like Rekha, Lata Mangeshkar, Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, and others.
As we go into print, it is the turn of the powerful fi lm producers to be hit. One of them has sent out messages that if these ladies do not pipe down, the producer will get his henchmen from the underworld to silence these girls. That is going to be unlikely as Union Minister Ms. Maneka Gandhi has asked for a Committee of four Judges to be constituted to examine the gravity and nature of the sexual harassment undergone by the survivors and hold open house to record evidence from the aggrieved parties.
Perhaps its best to start the recording from the early 1992 incident of alleged sexual molestation of Alisha Chinai by the music composer Anu Malik, which led to a sensational case in court. Malik was finally ordered by the court to maintain a distance from the lady. But this incident did not lead to any social reforms of better respect for women workers in the film industry. It was treated as an accidental folly by Malik.
Today the first reaction of the male actors so charged, is to issue denials. When that has failed to impress anyone, then some more practical ones, have issued written and open apologies for their remiss.
The remarkable thing had been that everyone one knew who use to be the predators of junior artists who were attempting to make an entry into the film industry. The Couch culture was denied by men, and whispered by women. Occasionally one heard that the coach did not spare the male model from unwanted assaults in the office. But none complained and instead endured.
It is so sad that those very leaders who were using the stage for ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Badhao’ have taken leave of the Media and disappeared. Union Minister Ravi Shanker Prasad, ex ministers Yashwant Sinha, Jairam Ramesh and many who attended the weekend glamour parties in town, are running away from the camera and mike crews to avoid uttering a word. At least some word of encouragement could be said, but no one is taking a risk.
Popular opinion polls are saying that when this hurly burly ends, the Indian film industry would have identified about 70 percent of its villains who were misbehaving with the women in the industry. There is optimism that women will finally be safer in the film studios in the country.
But let there be no doubt, there shall be for future a secret official eye now on all individual persons who show on the next morning swollen eyes, puffy faces and a slurred speech.
Some official intrusion in the film studios is now desired. All offices of film producers, make up rooms, parked vanity vans should have CCTV and connected to the nearest Police Station.
All film shooting units whether working indoors or on location must have at least two members appointed who are acquainted with law, to be present and see the work underway during working hours of these units. They can be appointed by professional Unions or Associations.
Each film artist on contract with the producer, must have an anti sexual harassment clause in their contract. Script writers should strive to ensure that their film stories had lesser cabaret opportunities.
I remember, actress Kim Ketkar recalling the harrowing experience she had on the set of film ‘Hum’ during the shooting of the song, ‘Chumma Chumma de de …..’ . The deployed extras had literally mauled the actress ‘s body and pawed her extensively and the film director had not intervened. So had also Amitabh Bachchan who came to know of the mischief going on during the film shooting. Some of the film sequences of cabaret songs in Salman Khan’s films have been on the verge of being lewd.
What has saddened me here is the work which the State Women Commissions have been undertaking in recent past. They seem to have had their binoculars pointing to the direction of their political rivals in the film centres of their respective States. Obviously, these Commissions have not shown they are concerned at the welfare of the working women in film studios among other work sites.
Besides the film industry, we should also show our concern at the advertising industry in the country who have continued to over glamourise the female models and misbehave individually with their victims.
Deglamourising public working places must be the distant goal of our society and to hell with what the activists think. By no means are we suggesting that our social policemen become kill joys, but when we look back 50 years ago at the pictures of Lux models in newspapers, we realize how much more have the Indian models have been asked to drop off their clothes to show their soft skins.
Looking at the constructive side once again, we need to now plan a systematic approach to reduce the social tensions in the industry by beginning to organize gender sensitizing courses for both workers in the studios and within the circles of higher society. There is no need to show the holdings in wealth by those who posses that. Look around, some of the Marwaris of Rajasthan wallow in millions but live simple lives. Impress your self with good performances instead. We know our advise will fall on deaf ears and only sever punishments would be the teacher to bring sense to the males who think money is all powerful. So let the named suspects be shamed in the eyes of their society and families
One immediate effect of the #MeToo agitation has been the halt to some projects because they featured some alleged molesters of women. I will not name any such projects, save to say that such actions have been hasty and done for effect. The suspect may be isolated but the projects should not be dropped or halted. Some very honest work had gone into these exercises and that also affect the livelihood of the poor worker in the studio who suffers for no fault of his.
I remember the old song from film Nazarana (1961) which seems to reflect the present mood of the Mumbai film industry right now:
“ Ek Woh bhi Diwali thi, ek yeh bhi Diwali hai Ujadha huwa gulshan hai , rota hua maali hai”