Sexual harassment in any film industry is a worrying trend; actors are not sex objects

“You are an actor, so of course it comes with the profession.”

“Why should anyone who chose to become an actor complain about sexual harassment?”

“Film industry mein toh yeh sab hota hi hai….  If you don’t like it, don’t become an actor.”

It's commonplace to hear statements like this whenever you hear of a actor being sexually propositioned, objectified or harassed.

Representational image. Getty Images

Representational image. Getty Images

On 18 February, a Malayalam actress was abducted and harassed by a gang of men who forced their way into her car. A few days later, Tamil actor Varalaxmi Sarathkumar spoke out about an incident where a TV channel head made a pass at her after a work meeting.

She added that this was not an isolated incident, but part of a larger mindset that treated actors as sexual objects.

Read: Tamil actress Varalaxmi Sarathkumar speaks out about sexual harassment, exploitation in film industry

"'You knew the film industry was like this when you joined. Why complain now?'," Varalaxmi wrote, of the kind of response she'd previously received. "But," she countered, "I didn't join the industry to be treated like a piece of meat or follow the same practices of exploitation (that other women had been subjected to)... I love acting. I work hard and it's my profession of choice... my options should not be to 'either put up with it or quit'."

The refrain is one I've heard before.

A producer once said in my hearing, "On screen romance ke liye off-screen chemistry samajhna zaroori hai na." Moron, off-screen chemistry is my choice. I will decide whether I want it or not.

Every time someone says, “If you can get intimate with your co-actor on screen why can’t you get intimate with me off screen? Woh bhi professional hai, yeh bhi professional hai", I feel like saying why don’t you become an actor and understand the process of acting first. The two are completely different.

Intimacy in private spaces is not the same as acting intimate with lights, camera, action and a hundred people around, where often things are technically choreographed like a dance routine.

There is another very important distinction: As an actress whenever I have agreed to do an intimate scene, it has been very crucial for me to know who my co-actor is. It’s important for me to analyse my level of trust and comfort with him or her and feel relaxed about it. I would never agree to an intimate scene with a creep. So there is always a choice involved.

The choice also starts from whether I believe that the script really needs it. If a script demands something as a part of a story we don’t call it objectification — unlike just adding an item number and making the actor an object of sexual desire.

Similarly, when two adults meet, if they choose to get intimate it is their choice and there should be no judgment there. But if it is a condition, then there is a huge problem. One is forcing the other to have sex. That is rape. I have heard people saying, “I asked for it, but she had a choice to say no. She agreed — which means she also wanted it.”

Using one’s power to get sexual favours in a workspace is rape.

The person in power is responsible for setting the rules, not the one who is asking for the job. There are no two ways about it. Sometimes I have heard people saying, “What can I do if she seduced me? She did it. So I gave her the job.” In the workspace, one should be given a job for her skills, not for sexual favours she can offer. This is the highest level of corruption. We have to stand against it all the time. If I want to become a doctor I should study medicine. Similarly, if I want to become an actor I should know how to act.

One needs to understand that even a sex worker has a choice about trading her body and cannot be raped. As professionals, we have to constantly stand against these exploitative practices. In the film industry, this is a menace that people talk about in generalities. Nobody talks in specifics. I think we should have the courage to name and shame people and talk in specifics.

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Often the harassment is not direct. There are indirect pressures and expectations. There should be stricter laws against it. But of course in an unorganised industry such as film, it is difficult to implement laws against sexual harassment. People are scared of expressing their experiences or reporting against powerful people. They fear that they might lose out on work.  That makes it easier for exploitative people.

Asking for sexual favours in return for work is one of the most hostile, exploitative practices. It has to be viewed and dealt with in utter seriousness — with no compromise.


Published Date: Feb 23, 2017 12:34 pm | Updated Date: Feb 23, 2017 12:34 pm