Tanushree Dutta-Nana Patekar row: With reluctant responses, Hindi cinema’s old guard exposes its banality

Archita Kashyap

October 02, 2018 11:36:56 IST

Reactions to Tanushree Dutta’s accusations against Nana Patekar have drawn sharp responses from the Hindi film fraternity. These responses can be slotted in two brackets; those who have spoken up for Dutta; and those that have sidestepped the matter. Sonam Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Parineeti Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Twinkle Khanna, Anurag Kashyap and Hansal Mehta are among those that have defended her. And the ones who have not spoken up for either side - Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan, Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar - reestablish a trend. The powerful heavyweights of this film industry err on the side of caution.

Tanushree Dutta; Nana Patekar. Image via twitter/@priyamishra2702

Tanushree Dutta; Nana Patekar. Image via twitter/@priyamishra2702

This is not an attempt to validate anyone. This is an observation. As a journalist, having met several heavyweights of Hindi films (men and women), a few details become clearer to me. This lot protects its own, at all costs.

Amitabh Bachchan, one among those who skirted the issue, did not disappoint. At the launch of a film’s trailer, when asked about Dutta’s accusations , he said, “Neither am I Tanushree Dutta nor Nana Patekar. So, who am I to answer this?” Interestingly, he is an actor whose legend has been built by the people of this nation and almost no issues move him. Be it the Unnao rape case, Priyanka Chopra getting trolled when she wore a skirt to meet the Prime Minister; he makes light of it all, even as he endorses Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. In his lack of engagement with the reality on ground, Mr Bachchan comes off as somewhat noncommittal. On the other hand, several flawed but fabulous Hollywood and international celebrities have always spoken up about relevant socio-political issues when their voices mattered (Bono, Lady Gaga, George Clooney, Wayne Rooney, Sir Elton John, Eric Clapton to name a few).

Aamir Khan, too, dodged the same question with remarkable diplomacy. Although his activism is mostly evident, it tends to become convenient sometimes. Khan has raised very important points about issues that plague our society on his TV show, Satyamev Jayate, in the past. In times like those, he comes across as a separate identity from the superstar who usually likes to play it safe and avoid controversies.

Like his colleague, Salman Khan avoided a direct response to the matter. As he was attending a sports event, he asked the media to be 'sportier'. Not surprising for someone who has made 'being badass' a lucrative trademark and danced once when someone asked him a question about Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia at a film event. He tends to make deliberately arrogant statements in front of journalists, and if one observes closely, frequently in response to questions asked by female journalists. Social issues don’t impact him much but a question on Priyanka Chopra quitting his film does get a verbose response at an event. Salman can be offensive. But when a collective of veteran female journalists readily supports Salman even after his ‘raped woman’ remark, it is not surprising that he continues to get away with it all.

Akshay Kumar has also gone right back to work with Nana Patekar. As for his responsiveness to matters of social relevance, the fact that his activism is often connected to a film's promotion speaks volumes of his public awareness levels.

In hindsight, there’s a logical and revelatory detail about this protective and play-it-safe nature of the Hindi film industry’s old guard. After all, there might be a lot more to come from where Tanushree spoke, and when that happens, who knows what comes to light. It further shows that dismissing women or not taking them seriously is second nature to the powerful in cinema. And that might not include men alone. Women are also complicit in playing along and enabling such behavior.

I recall an interview that I had to conduct before a male superstar, one who had co-produced a massive Diwali release and decided to premiere it in London. While interviewing his debutante heroine, an impressive young lady, I had to chide a male colleague and friend who had jumped the queue (in democratic India, we wait our turn to do an interview with a revered movie star). The said superstar, gentlemanly and perfectly eloquent, simply cracked a joke about how the other journalist was just having "a rough time with the ladies".  Everyone around him laughed; everyone but the heroine and me. The journalist that I had just chided is male, and to the superstar, juxtaposing my professional displeasure with me being a woman just came naturally. Till date, I don’t believe he meant to hurt or offend me in any way; it just came naturally to him. Nearly a decade later, this gentleman superstar continues to address female journalists in press conferences as ‘darling (s)’, when he is annoyed with their questions. To him, this is being polite, but perhaps to the discerning journalist, it is patronising behaviour.

The eternal man-child of Bollywood, whose blockbuster has led to a record-breaking blockbuster, can be explicit and abusive about some women journalists. If he doesn’t like one, he curses and calls her names in front of his male buddies; just some locker room humor where lads laugh along even as the woman journalist waits, to just do her job. I wonder what would emerge if one prodded female crew members to open up about their experience of being on his film sets or any other film set for that matter. In exactly the same fashion, when I met Prabhudeva for an interview, my single point agenda was to get him to answer: do his films not humiliate the women in his family? Despite some seven questions, before a cub publicist asked me to shut up or leave, Prabhudeva wore a glassy-eyed expression, while consistently stating, "Madam, it is only a film no."

Incidents where I have been mansplained or interrupted mid-conversation, proliferate, but that’s just the life of a film reporter, or so I assumed. My perspective altered significantly when I began to interview the younger lot of actors after taking a career break. My first conversation was with Ranbir Kapoor, and I was struck by his politeness. Varun Dhawan, likewise, impressed with his sincerity and conduct. It wouldn’t be a sweeping statement to make if one were to say that the present lot of younger movie stars has evolved in their conduct around women, which is why the difference in the older generation can be percevied. Again, to reiterate, this is not to give them a character certificate, but a slight evolution of treatment of women as professionals (at least with greying journalists) is visible. Of course, Abhishek Bachchan remains an exception. Surprisingly, for the scion of such a successful family, he comes across as genuine and well behaved. Unfortunately, as time passes, even the new brigade of talented and universally appealing stars tends to dodge issues of relevance. Here too, women lead from the front. Not always afraid of what making a statement entail, leading heroines speak up when they should. So when Sonam Kapoor speaks up on issues of importance and Alia Bhatt makes a clear statement on nepotism, they set a refreshingly high benchmark for male counterparts.

The old guard of Bollywood is so ensconced in ivory towers that nothing can shake them out of their stupor. Too often, being banal has paid off for them. Whenever anything uncomfortable is asked, they simply dodge it by saying they are just artistes and their job is to entertain. The other response is often about speaking up and eventually landing in a soup. But the tradition of art, especially popular art, remains provocative. When leading cultural icons in a movie-crazed nation play it safe, they leave their people disappointed. Pick a side, express an opinion; stand by what you think is right as leaders are not meant to be mute spectators.

Updated Date: Oct 02, 2018 11:38 AM