Roman Polanski's expulsion from the Academy offers Bollywood plenty of important #MeToo lessons

Gautam Chintamani

May 15, 2018 17:22:02 IST

Just days after Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault, The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences voted to expel the once beloved entertainer along with another sexual offender — Oscar-winning director Roman Polanski. The fact that it took 40 years for Polanski to be expelled even though he had pleaded guilty to statutory rape in 1979 — and was continually treated nothing less than cinema royalty by one and all — shows that movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp have, in fact, changed the way of thinking in the industry. While some would perhaps label this as the next step in the ‘Weinstein effect’, a global trend that saw people come forward to accuse famous or powerful men of sexual misconduct after allegations against the disgraced movie mogul became public. And truth be told, this is just the kind of action that would send a message across.

Roman Polanskis expulsion from the Academy offers Bollywood plenty of important #MeToo lessons

Roman Polanski has been a member of the film academy for 41 years since pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in 1977, but that came to an end when the organization behind the Oscars expelled both him and Bill Cosby from its ranks. AP Photo/Alastair Grant

In Hollywood, such actions have been called out and faced some repercussions. Bollywood's approach is nowhere close to addressing the issue on a similar scale. A few weeks ago, when veteran choreographer Saroj Khan commented on how the casting couch was not a new thing in Hindi films, hardly anyone from her vintage condemned it. It was largely the younger actors who expressed shock at the manner in which Ms. Khan justified its existence but the older generation that would have been aware of it continued to remain silent. Their silence is a major contributor to fueling this kind of behavior but what’s appalling was the way some of them, such as Shatrughan Sinha, questioned people’s anger. He suggested, “this [casting couch] has been happening since time immemorial. What is there to get so upset about?”; Sinha also called it an “old and time-tested way” of getting ahead in life.

If one were to compare the way Hollywood and Hindi films industry operate, there wouldn’t be much difference besides perhaps the scale at which things operate. Both also appear to have two sets of rules that govern them — one for the high and mighty and the other for the rest. Yet, the matter of sexual assault and misconduct has evoked very different reactions. It’s not like Saroj Khan is the only one who found support, in the manner of speaking, from her ilk. Despite being on the run from the law in the United States since 1979, Roman Polanski was hand-delivered his Oscar for The Pianist (2003) in Paris by Harrison Ford or scores of big names, mostly men, who supposedly knew about Weinstein but never said anything.

Post-#MeToo there was a sense of worry, a backlash amongst many who believed that this would turn into a witch-hunt of sorts. This is exactly the sentiment echoed by Polanski when he learnt about his expulsion. Considering the sheer audacity with which men in the entertainment industry seem to ‘get away’ with things, the so imagined backlash (at least to me) remains a non-issue. Simply put, if you had nothing to worry, you wouldn't fear anything. Maybe things don’t operate that simplistically but perhaps they ought to.

What makes the present times different from before is not what women are experiencing but the manner in which it has become a majority movement. What men don’t understand can be best summed up by Gloria Steinem’s observation about the wave that #MeToo has transformed into - “Women are being believed for the first time ever.”

Unfortunately, in India, the mere mention of some ‘action’ or even acknowledgement of the casting couch evokes sniggers and laughter from the A-List. In an interview with Arnab Goswami, Rishi Kapoor laughed as he said: "You think the casting couch will stop happening?" The actor’s attitude when he says something like, “Just because you take a stance, you guess it is going to stop?” mirrors most of the old school Hindi film industry. When younger male actors like Ranbir Kapoor are asked to comment on the issue, the ‘seniors’ such as Rajkumar Hirani and Vidhu Vinod Chopra routinely crack up. This is one of the big reasons why such practices have persisted and make it easy for Bollywood to normalise just about anything.

Updated Date: May 15, 2018 17:23:55 IST