Time's Up: Hollywood finally seems to be tackling its sexual harassment problem; will Bollywood follow suit?

Gautam Chintamani

Jan,09 2018 13:29 33 IST

Over 300 actresses and executives from the entertainment industry have formed a collation called ‘Time’s Up’ that would aim at combating sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace. It was on the spotlight at the Golden Globes 2018.

A top-notch line-up, ‘Time’s Up’ includes names such as Ashley Judd, Eva Longoria, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Kerry Washington and Reese Witherspoon besides some more powerful Hollywood figures, but what also truly empowers this coalition is the change in Hollywood that came about once revelations of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misconduct became public. The manner in which the social media campaign #MeToo went global to help amplify the stories of women who were sexually or professionally harassed somewhere sent out a message that accountability is possible.

Priyanka Chopra, Reese Witherspoon and America Ferrera have all signed up for the Time's Up movement.

Perhaps for the first time in years, Hollywood’s environment, where bigwigs such as Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Louis CK, James Toback, and Brett Ratner, were swiftly reprimanded for their alleged actions suggested that the environment was finally ready for a change. Just a few years ago it would have been practically unimaginable for an industry leader, such as say Pixar’s founder and chief John Lasseter, to take a six-month leave of absence from his post after apologising to those employees “who had ever been on the receiving end of an unwanted hug or any other gesture they felt crossed the line in any way, shape, or form.”

While globally the ecosystem within the entertainment industry is feeling the reverberations of a long overdue change, it’s still some way to go for a similar reaction in India. Bollywood’s ‘casting couch’ has long been one of the biggest open secrets and has almost come to be seen just one of the things an aspiring actor has to endure. While actors such as Kangana Ranaut have opened up about the existence of the casting couch but up until now, no one has directly pointed fingers at anyone specific. But that is slowly changing.

In an article carried by The Guardian, many other actors including Swara Bhasker and Tisca Chopra felt that “the unmasking of abusive men is overdue in industry that shames and undermines victims.” In the same article, Reena Saini shared her experience of how a casting director, Sohan Thakur, who had allegedly groped her in his car, warned her not to share the incident as that would be a ‘minus’ for her; no one would see her as a “good girl.” Thakur has denied the allegations.

There are hundreds of such tales about the “serial harassers” but a very few of the offenders being brought to book. In a welcome development, Maneka Gandhi, the Minister for Women & Child Development in the government of India, wrote to more than two dozen prominent production houses to ensure that there is a safe and secure environment for women in the film industry. In an endeavour to extend the reach of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition Redressal) Act, 2013, the Minister asked the likes of producer Karan Johar, Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Ekta Kapoor, Mahesh Bhatt, Sajid Nadiadwala, and Subhash Ghai, among others, to implement all relevant actions without delay.

One of the highlights of the open letter that announced the arrival of ‘Time’s Up’ was how for long women within the industry have been “siloed off from each other.” This solidarity within the industry is what could act as a big factor in ensuring that there is no victim shaming. The Hindi film industry is quite famous for considering itself to be one big family and jumps to stand up in arms on just about everything but when it comes to its ugly realities it more often than not tends to brush things under the carpet. But what is worse is the manner in which it creates an environment where like Tisca Chopra said, “They make situations uncomfortable and load choices in a way where if women want to get ahead, you have to do certain things.”

About a decade ago in 2008, Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of indecent behavior on the sets of Horn Ok Please where she was featured in an item song. Patekar addressed a press conference and said that he had no clue why Dutta said what she said and most of the narrative that followed in the press was centered around how the actress was unprofessional, threw her weight around and locked her self up in her makeup van for hours on end.

A few years later Dutta quit acting and although she might not have been getting great offers, could one still be incorrect in thinking that this is what the casting director who accosted Reena Saini meant? Amongst the similarities between Hollywood and the Hindi film industry, both are male-dominated businesses yet somewhere Hollywood appears to have reached its tipping point with sexual misconduct. Is it time for something similar here that would ensure men who indulge in sexual misconduct don't get a free pass.

It’s one thing for an Anushka Sharma to say that she was about to “put a sexual harassment case” against Karan Johar for touching her “very inappropriately” but up until it would be laughed off by the very person involved and carry on as if nothing happened, the mindset that feels such incidents as no big deal would continue to get fueled.

Published Date: Jan 09, 2018 13:29 PM | Updated Date: Jan 09, 2018 16:08 PM