Want to see a real comedy? Observe how Tanushree Dutta's sexual harassment allegations have unfolded

Rohini Nair

Oct 05, 2018 15:59:14 IST

There's an excellent black comedy coming out of Bollywood, and it's called the Tanushree Dutta-Nana Patekar show.

For those who’ve shunned the news cycle, social media, life in an Indian metro, and/or human conversation for the past couple of weeks (like Salman Khan), here's a quick recap:

Back in 2008, during the shoot of a song number for the film Horn OK Pleassss, a seemingly upset Tanushree Dutta retreated to her vanity van, informed the producer she could not continue, called her parents and attempted to leave the sets in her car. A mob (reportedly Maharastra Navnirman Sena members) rushed to the sets and savagely attacked the actress' car as she sat inside.

Tanushree — who was Miss India-Universe in 2004 before turning to a film career — later told a few journalists who asked her about the incident, that she had been forced to discontinue the song shoot because her co-star Nana Patekar's behaviour made her uncomfortable. Steps that required her to dance intimately with Patekar had been introduced into the choreography at the eleventh hour, she alleged. She added that she had filed a complaint with the Cine and Television Artistes Association (CINTAA) seeking compensation for the damage to her property and reputation.

Patekar held a press conference, denied Tanushree's allegations, and was backed by choreographer Ganesh Acharya and producer Samee Siddiqui. Rakhi Sawant replaced Tanushree Dutta in the song.

 Want to see a real comedy? Observe how Tanushree Duttas sexual harassment allegations have unfolded

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

A decade later, Tanushree — who has since relocated to the US — was asked in an interview if a Hollywood-like #MeToo reckoning would come to Bollywood as well. This was when she brought up the 2008 incident, and found herself at the centre of a full-fledged row once again.

Here's what has happened after that interview was aired:

1. Tanushree Dutta has presented her side of the story — a narrative that has stayed consistent from 2008 onwards — in several other interviews.

2. A few Bollywood stars have tweeted their support.

3. Three Bollywood superstars when asked for their opinion were as non-committal as it is possible to be. (For their troubles — imagine the indignity of three grown men being asked a question about the industry they rule over! — they even got some sympathy. Incidentally, one of those superstars has written odes to feminism and endorses a campaign to educate the girl child; another highlighted social evils through his TV show. The third thinks rape jokes are funny.)

4. Tanushree has been sent two legal notices — one by Nana Patekar's lawyer, the other by filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri (Tanushree accused him of passing a lewd remark when they worked together on a film).

5. A defamation case has been filed against her by MNS workers.

6. She says she has been threatened by MNS workers.

7. Said MNS workers reportedly went to the inconvenience of heading to the Lonavala sets of Bigg Boss, where its 12th season is being filmed, to warn the showrunners that should they even think of scoring some TRPs by roping in Tanushree, there would be violence.

8. There's one probe request against Nana Patekar lodged in front of the National Council for Women, by an advocate unrelated to Dutta.

9. Deepak Kesarkar, Minister of State for Home (Maharashtra) has supported Patekar by saying, "...you can't accuse a person of his status because he isn't only an actor but also a very well known social worker." (Credentials no one has questioned.)

10. As for Tanushree, this is what the Horn OK Pleassss producer Samee Siddiqui had to say: “Maybe she was on her period”.

As Tanushree deals with the consequences of menstruating on one particular day in 2008 [sarcasm alert — just in case it wasn't evident], an AIB comedian has been called out for sending unsolicited dick pics to unknown women, and asking for their nudes. When the screenshots piled up on Twitter, AIB released a statement that condemned his 'creepy’ behaviour, rued how they provided a safe working environment for him, and de-listed his videos. All this amid comments from other Twitter users that say AIB knew for a while about this comedian's behaviour but continued working with him anyway (update: AIB has confirmed they knew of the allegations beforehand).

As for the comedian himself, he issued a rambling, self-pitying spiel on Twitter that blamed Autoimmune disease and the haze of pain he lived in for his behaviour. Asking unknown women for their nudes and sending photos of his penis to them apparently served as a painkiller. Hmm. Nowhere in the long Twitter thread was the word 'sorry’ used. And this was meant to be an apology. (update: several hours after his original tweets, the comedian did — finally — use the word sorry.)

Of course this comedian is in exalted company and has clearly learned from the masters: Kevin Spacey (who turned assault accusations into a matter of fiercely protecting his privacy and choosing to live as a gay man), Junot Diaz (turning his sexual harassment of several women into an account of being abused as a child — and yes, it was searing and painful, but so was what he did to the women who stepped forward).

It was just locker room talk! I didn't know I was making women uncomfortable by masturbating in front of them while we were at work! He was not really a father figure to his partner's children. He's done his time. He's such a great artist. Who really knows what happened? It was all so long ago. He was 17, and drunk! What did she expect? #NotAllMen (but a lot of men). There's always a good reason for letting a man get away with deeply troubling (and often criminal) behaviour. As a far more articulate writer previously said, the moral is simple:

A man's reputation is more important than a woman's trauma.

In 2008, when Tanushree Dutta first detailed her issues on the Horn OK Pleasss shoot, I remember reading the interview, and about her car being destroyed by a mob. And yet, beyond a few stray news reports, not much seemed to have happened at the time. Tanushree disappeared. Her occasional reappearances were remarked on more for the change in her weight, her cropped hair, her spiritual forays. Nana Patekar was not asked about the allegations again. Subsequent reportage on him focused on his compelling onscreen performances, his work for the farmers of Vidarbha, his craft. A life derailed, a life that thrived.

But in 2018, Tanushree's allegations seemed to have been heard. Hashtags trended, TV channels organised panels discussions, Bollywood's #MeToo — it was declared — was on its way. I asked friends and colleagues what was different this time. Had the power structures in Bollywood changed? Was it the proliferation of social media? Was it that #MeToo had made talking about sexual harassment a little bit easier? A combination of all these things?

Only, if we look at the actual, real outcome — see points 1 to 10 above — the answer to that question: "What has changed since 2008?" is sadly, “Nothing”.

It's enough to make you angry. It's enough to make you sad.

Oh, and FYI: I am not on my period.

Updated Date: Oct 05, 2018 16:27:13 IST