Tanushree Dutta had a lot going for her. She featured in a music video, went on to win Miss India and also made it to the final top 10 in the Miss Universe pageant. Bollywood was the next step, as it usually is for beauty pageant winners in our country. Her first movie was Aashiq Banaya Aapne, the album of which could be easily considered a milestone in Bollywood music. Tanushree Dutta had a lot going for her.
Her career choices after that were not remarkable and 5 years and 13 movies later, she more or less vanished from the scene. Tanushree’s presence was not particularly missed as there have been far too many starlets who’ve featured in some forgettable films and packed their bags to pursue other interests. Most assumed Tanushree did the same. Not many noticed or cared that she had spoken about Nana Patekar misbehaving with her on the sets of the 2008 movie, Horn Ok Pleassss. Due to her “tantrums”, she was immediately replaced by Rakhi Sawant. It was 2008, Orkut was still a thing, Facebook and Twitter were in nascent stages and the Indian internet was (and is) obsessed with words like ‘wardrobe malfunction’ and ‘hot kiss’, nothing more.
The incident was brushed off as just another controversy for a B-grade film to grab some eyeballs. There were bigger things to focus on – Kareena Kapoor‘s size zero body in Tashan was the rage, Imran Khan and Harman Baweja were making their Bollywood debuts and Aamir Khan was going around giving ‘Ghajini‘ haircuts to cinema staff when Shah Rukh Khan’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi was playing in theaters. No one would spend a lot of time on Nana Patekar and Tanushree Dutta ‘not getting along’.
10 years have passed and Tanushree Dutta has spoken about her #MeToo experience again. In an interview to Zoom TV, she recounted the incident when she was pushed and intimidated by Nana on the sets and how goons from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena vandalised her car when she refused to do an intimate dance step with him. To HuffPost India, Tanushree spoke about how the narrative around the incident was changed and how she was the one who was called “unprofessional” by the makers. And in an interview with News 18, she said that the #MeToo movement will never arrive in India because of the industry’s hypocrisy.
Journalist and anchor, Janice Sequeira, was an eyewitness to what Tanushree went through that day. She tweeted about the occurrence, going on to prove that this wasn’t some ambiguous incident where Tanushree “misread” Nana’s intentions. Her tweets and Tanushree’s interviews have gained a lot of traction on the Internet. Other media personalities (mostly women) joined in to demand Nana Patekar’s accountability. You’d think in the day and age of #MeToo and #TimesUp, Bollywood celebrities would finally have the sensitivity or the courage to condemn an incident like this, right? Well, they don’t. As the actress herself has said to multiple outlets, no one from Bollywood stood up for her then and it doesn’t seem to be very different even now.
As soon as her interview went viral, the choreographer of the song in question, Ganesh Acharya, and the film’s director, Rakesh Sarang, jumped to Nana’s defense. Rakesh went ahead and said that Tanushree ‘misjudged’ Nana’s encouragement and that he was just ‘excited’ about shooting a song after many years. Influential personalities like Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan have refused to comment on the matter and it seems unlikely that anyone will, except Swara Bhasker who has tweeted about it.
When conversation around the #MeToo movement had just begun, Richa Chadha, in an interview to Indian Express said something that sums up the reason why victims hesitate to name names –
Indian actors don’t have a strong union. They don’t have a legal help. If some woman gets up one day and says a name, I can write it down on a paper and sign it that no one will hire her again. For your scoop, she will give out a name and then who will support her? Who is going to take care of her family? No one’s going to do it till you put that cushioning, safety net.
In the wake of Tanushree’s statements, author and media consultant Tanzila Anis re-tweeted her comments on Gulaab Gang director Soumik Sen which she had made in 2015.
Bollywood protects it's own. Even one or two articles that ran were taken down by this supposed women empowerment director type. He would say to me, among other things, send me a sexy picture. And when I said no, said, but you upload it publicly on Twitter. #metoo https://t.co/6tHn11TyS6
— Tanzila Anis. (@aaliznat) September 26, 2018
Soumik continues to get work in Bollywood. His next movie, Cheat India, is scheduled to release in 2019 and it stars Emraan Hashmi. Nana Patekar is shooting for Housefull 4 in Jaisalmer. Tanushree’s revelations didn’t hurt his career in 2008 and they will not matter much in 2018. Solidarity is required for a movement like #TimesUp to be successful, something that is actively discouraged among women, especially in Bollywood. The men will always protect their own, though. They will show up in press conferences to defend Aman Verma and they will keep their mouths shut for Nana Patekar. They will hug it out at Iftar parties and make biopics to show their ‘misunderstood’ bros in a sympathetic light. The women will still be pitted against each other, made to perform scenes they’re not comfortable with and if they “make too much noise”, they will be replaced without a thought.
Just to put things in perspective, Tanushree Dutta had beaten Miss Israel 2004 Gal Gadot to make it to the final 10 at the Miss Universe pageant. Gal Gadot, who is now one of the most recognized faces in the world, refused to star in the Wonder Woman sequel unless Brett Ratner, one of the financers of the first movie, was fired. Brett has been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women and Gal’s firm stance lead to Warner Bros. severing ties with him. On the other hand, influential producers and actors in Bollywood will slowly gang up against an outspoken actress, mostly by ridiculing her in award shows.
While I am aware that this article was probably read by some with raised eyebrows, and some just skimmed for names for their next fix of “juicy gossip”. Whatever your reason might be, I’m asking you this – Isn’t it time to walk the talk? Isn’t it time to stop doubting a survivor’s account?
It’s time we believe women. If not us then who? #ItEndsWithMe