Tanushree Dutta sexual harassment row: Nana Patekar and the problem with Bollywood’s defence of male anger
It’s no secret that Nana Patekar — a prolific actor and social activist — has always had a bit of a temper.
It’s no secret that Nana Patekar — a prolific actor and social activist — has always had a bit of a temper. But what is remarkable that in the three decades that Patekar has continued to work in the Indian film industry, his generosity has always been praised but his temper problem has rarely been called out by his colleagues.
In the aftermath of the accusations of sexual harassment levelled against him by actor Tanushree Dutta during the filming of Horn Ok Pleassss in 2008, which the actor has categorically denied, several news reports from the past draw a vivid picture of the male entitlement that helps Bollywood’s patriarchy thrive.
In a telling Facebook post on Sunday, actor Renuka Sahane writes: “Nana Patekar is known as much for his volatile temper as he is for his phenomenal talent or his social service towards farmers. Many men & women from the film industry have faced his wrath….” going on to explain in detail why Dutta’s account of being bullied and harassed resonates with her.
The world over, society interprets male and female anger, especially in artists, differently. While the former is mostly tolerated, and in some cultures even encouraged as a sign of virile masculinity, women’s rage is dismissed as the hysteric outcome of lack of control. A man must let it out. A woman must internalise. A man could not have helped it. A woman must be on her periods.
Women know from very early on the emotional cost of displaying unfettered anger in public. Which is why when women actors are asked even the most leading questions they are expected to either deal with them with grace or be subject to endless scrutiny.
In an interesting interview to NDTV in 2010, Dimple Kapadia is asked about Patekar. “Do you think he’s mellowed out, or do you think he’s still stuck in his ways,” asks Anupama Chopra. Kapadia, Patekar’s co-worker from the film Prahaar, blurts out “I think he’s obnoxious.” I was intrigued to hear what Kapadia says to contextualise her comment. But the next few seconds turn out to be more significant because of all that she does not say explicitly. Chopra asks: “In a good way…?”
Kapadia says after a bit of hesitation: “In a good way...and uh...and in a bad way. Because...as...as far as his talent goes there’s no match to him. He is an extremely talented man. When I see talent like this, sau khoon maaf hai…. With me he’s been a good friend but I’ve also seen his dark side..” If the “obnoxious” comment was not a joke (and given that Kapadia goes on to qualify her answer it’s unlikely to be), a personal experience must have triggered it which she obviously feels prudent not to share.
Dutta’s ordeal on the set is now common knowledge. She walked off and locked herself in her vanity van after Patekar allegedly requested choreographer Ganesh Acharya to write in a supposedly vulgar dance move into an item number that he wasn’t initially a part of. Dutta’s van was mobbed and her car was damaged as she tried to leave the set with her parents. At least two witnesses have corroborated Dutta’s account from the day and in the next ten years Dutta has repeatedly spoken about the incident that effectively ended her career in Bollywood.
But the mere mention of Patekar’s behaviour in media leads to an immediate attempt to whitewash the allegations levelled against him. Actor Rimi Sen tells the Times of India that Patekar “loved the company of women”. She attributes his “short temper” to “loneliness and frustration”. She says Patekar always treated her as his daughter. Actor Rakhi Sawant is far more direct.
“She’s (Dutta) come back from America after 10 years and is barfing these allegations against Nana. Nothing of this sort happened. I did a song with Nana and he didn’t even touch me,” she says. Sen’s or Sawant’s personal experience, which is obviously different from Dutta’s, is immaterial in the case. They are entirely within their right to defend the actor, who is within his rights to challenge Dutta’s claim. But just because their experience with Patekar has been different, does not mean that Dutta is lying.
Actor John Abraham had this to say about his Welcome Back co-star back in 2015: "I believe he is the most honest person in the industry. He is the most transparent man. I would not blame him for getting angry as he shows his anger when someone does wrong. So, I don’t blame him. He is a fantastic human being."
According to media reports, Patekar has, allegedly in the past, has had a tiff with filmmaker Prakash Jha too which was later resolved. Patekar’s proximity to the Shiv Sena plays a huge part in much of the clout he enjoys. In 2008, after the incident at the sets with Dutta, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) wrote to producers’ associations to 'blacklist' Dutta for maligning the reputation of Patekar whom they hailed as "pride of Maharashtra".
There’s no denying the good Patekar does in his private life. He is a vocal ally of farmers in Maharashtra. Salman Khan too, once notorious for his temper, runs the charitable brand Being Human. The problem lies not in their volatile outbursts, but with the eagerness of the industry to forgive their bad behaviour with far greater alacrity than they would a woman’s. Every time Salman Khan’s transgressions are brought up in the media, you hear steady, unwavering accounts of his generosity.
In a public statement in 2003, actor Aishwarya Rai says this about Salman Khan: “I stood by him, enduring his alcoholic misbehaviour, in (the) worst phases and in turn I was at the receiving end of his abuse (verbal, physical and emotional), infidelity and indignity. That is why like any other self-respecting woman, I had ended my relationship with him almost two years ago.” It did not cost Khan his career. Govinda slapped a man on the set of his film, and later had to apologise in a very public case that dragged on in courts. At that time, even Dutta, among others, came out in support of the actor saying that he’s only human, although from all account, the violent act was unprovoked.
It’s not that women are unlikely to have angry fits. Of course they are. If they have made a permanent space for themselves in the industry they are likelier to get away with a lot more than newcomers. But no matter where they are in their career, they are held to a far greater scrutiny than their male counterparts, their actions linked to their morality, salacious accounts of their angry outbursts written in tabloids. Which is why so many women in the entertainment industry now choose to vent online on Twitter and Facebook, needing the safety of a direct voice and a safe space to express clearly their rage and frustration.
As more young women stand up for their rights in the industry, here’s hoping their rage will have greater amplification and purpose to lift others with them.
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