Tanushree Dutta’s frank retelling of the harassment she faced ten years ago on a film set at the hands of Nana Patekar has had a ripple effect not just in Bollywood, but in other fields and workspaces all over India.
At a panel discussion held at We The Women, a conference celebrating and honouring womanhood in all its diversity at the Lalit Ashok Hotel in Bengaluru on Sunday, Bollywood actor Tanushree Dutta was in conversation with journalists Sandhya Menon and Barkha Dutt. Sandhya precipitated a #MeToo moment in the journalism industry herself when she tweeted about the sexual harassment she faced in the newsroom at the hands of TOI Hyderabad editor KR Sreenivas, and invited other women journalists to tweet about their experiences of harassment too.
At the discussion, Tanushree chillingly traced the series of now-infamous events around her harassment by Nana Patekar on the sets of Horn OK Pleassss back in 2008, and led up to the mob attacking her in retaliation when she decided to leave the set. She pointed out, “This happened ten years ago, and even ten years ago all the steps were taken: I filed a police complaint, gave a complaint to CINTA, produced written records, everything. The media covered it extensively, although the media was extremely hostile at that time. There was some outright derogatory, scandalous, salacious gossipy reporting at that time. It erupted like a story and it died down like a story, and the film industry was completely silent. I saw that these guys, Nana Patekar, the producer, the choreographer were all party to my harassment, and went about their lives as though nothing happened. Malicious lies were perpetrated about me, and those lies were a risk of becoming gospel truth. When you don't get support, the lies stick. Of course I chose to walk away from the industry.”
When detailing the discussions in the public and the media when she came out with her allegations ten years ago, she made an important point about the nature of consent, “Everyone called me unprofessional. They said I did Aashique Banaaya with Emraan Hashmi before, so why am I complaining about this, but that was consent, I agreed to do that. In this movie [with Patekar], I consented only to the solo dance sequence.”
Sandhya Menon, for her part, discussed what exactly about this particular moment was so powerful right now and made her want to speak up. “I think for the past year we’ve all been primed. The atmosphere is just really tired that we have to keep quiet. I think all my women journalist friends know which are the creeps, we talk among ourselves. The turning point was Tanushree. It had an influence.”
Both women spoke compellingly about the kinds of legal opposition they are facing even now, smack in the middle of a global #MeToo moment. Sandhya said, “I found out just now as I was walking in that I’m being sued for defamation, so I know why women are keeping quiet.” Tanushree too mentioned how Nana Patekar and Vivek Agnihotri, whose workplace sexual harassment she mentioned to the press, had both slapped legal notices against her.
When asked about the threat of legal repercussions to women speaking up by an audience member, Tanushree said, “It’s an intimidation movement, anyone who speaks up, slap them with legal notice.” Sandhya also spoke about the importance of continuing to speak up despite this, and how women have safety in numbers when they speak out together. She said, “You don’t have to be afraid of repercussions. How many people will they send legal notices to, how many legal repercussions can there be?”
Tanushree continued, “We have to drive this in a direction where we get more powerful support for the movement. Don’t get rattled by onslaught, deal with it in a correct manner, stay on track, drive the movement, and we’ll reach a crescendo where the onslaught becomes irrelevant. This is a much larger movement, and if we keep at it, even courts will laugh at men when they go to court like that.”