It was June 2010. Graduation was over. In the few months before post-graduation classes, I needed the money for basic sustenance in Delhi. I applied for a job. Five days before my 21st birthday, I joined this nondescript little publishing firm in Laxmi Nagar. There were 10 odd people working out of a dingy, damp 2BHK where, we would joke, no sunlight had ever entered. A glass wall separated the employees’ seating area from the boss’s cabin. I was given the seat right on the other side of this partition.
It began with catching him staring at me. Then came the SMSes saying how my earrings were very pretty and the kurta I was in “accentuated my curves”. The texts became longer and more descriptive. A month into the job, one evening, my boss said that he was going to North Delhi “for some work” and “could drop me”. I refused. After 15 minutes of back and forth, he finally said, “I will just drop you to the nearest Metro station.” I relented. He did not drop me to any Metro station, but at the end of the gali that led to my then-house in Indra Vihar.
Fifteen minutes after I entered home, there was an SMS from him that said, among other things, how he “really wanted to come in” but I “didn’t even ask him to”. By the time I finished reading it, I was flushed, a deep maroon in the face, and shivering. Then came the tears.
I shut myself in that week. The next week, I told the co-owner of the firm that I was quitting. I never gave him a reason.
The reasons are always “personal” in a case of sexual harassment. The resignation letters never say why a person is leaving a workplace even though it would mean no money for a while. For women from smaller towns, trying to eke out a living in the bigger cities, turning to home is also not an option. The first response from home is always, “Come back.” But none of us want that. Not because of some man who could not keep himself in check.
But almost a decade since then, the incident returns to haunt me at times. It is mostly buried under the better years that have followed since. But then there is a trigger. And it all comes back, crashing, in waves, till you’re in the middle of an out-and-out breakdown.
Tanushree Dutta. A name everyone had just about forgotten. But India was at the cusp of an awakening. This ‘yesteryear actress’ exorcised memories of a shoot in 2008, that marked the end of her career in Bollywood. On the set of the film Horn Ok Pleassss, Tanushree said, Nana Patekar and four others sexually harassed her. “#MeToo,” she said.
It took about two weeks for the women in India to say enough was enough. Twitter became the place where everyone broke down. Where women — famous to anonymous — spoke about their ordeals. In October 2018, India looked like it had finally dived into the movement that was aimed at making ‘workplaces safer’ for women. Two of the industries that really took the hit in this period were Bollywood and the media. Actors, directors, casting directors, producers, music directors — every second minute, there was an ugly story tumbling out on Twitter. All of us women broke down; but the tears were cathartic. The tears, we thought in our naivete in 2018, would help cleanse the workplace.
It has been a year. Nearly all of Bollywood’s famous named-in-#MeToo men have gone back to work. The women, at least the ones who were brave enough to come out in the open, are still fighting. Outside Bollywood, in court, Priya Ramani is tackling a volley of questions like “What are the headlines of the articles you wrote for Asian Age in 1994?”
1994. 2019. If you ask people in the media to tell you 10 headlines from the previous day’s news, you will, in all likelihood, be met with blank stares. In 25 years, do you really expect a person to remember ‘headlines’ of all stories she wrote?
Bollywood: September 2019
What should have been a momentous occasion for women in Bollywood (and otherwise) to celebrate, is now a sad joke. On the women who dared to name their perpetrators.
In what probably comes as the biggest setback to India’s #MeToo movement, Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan announced his return to Mogul with director Subhash Kapoor, a year after Aamir said in a public statement that he was disassociating himself from the project. Aamir and wife Kiran Rao’s statement said, “...at Aamir Khan Productions, we have always had a zero-tolerance policy towards sexual misconduct and predatory behaviour of any kind.”
The statement went on to read, “Without casting aspersions on anyone involved in this case, and without coming to any conclusions about these specific allegations, we have decided to step away from this film.”
“We believe that this is an opportunity for the film industry to introspect and take concrete steps towards change. For far too long women have faced the brunt of sexual exploitation. It has to stop. In this regard we are committed to doing any and everything to make our film industry a safe and happy one to work in.”
Crisp, concise, clinical. And commendable.
Everyone went to all kinds of lengths to praise Mr Perfectionist for his perfect statement on the state of Bollywood and how this step of his was a major one for the film industry.
September 2019: Aamir announced that he was back on Mogul. With the same director, Subhash Kapoor, who was accused of sexual misconduct. Aamir said that he had sleepless nights thinking that his step had robbed someone of their livelihood. Unsurprisingly, his ‘sleepless nights’ were for Subhash Kapoor. Aamir, in his statement, said that he got in touch with 10-12 women who had worked with Subhash Kapoor and how all of them praised him. Armed with their certificates of Kapoor’s conduct, Khan jumped back on board Mogul, bringing Kapoor back with him.
Did he speak to the woman who is in the centre of this case? The woman who had a video recording of Subhash Kapoor’s misconduct? The answer is a NO. Bold, caps, underlined.
“He sat next to me on the sofa. I realised I was trapped as his family was not at home. He then lifted my skirt and dropped his pants. I thought of pushing him and rushing out of the door, but he was too strong for me. Luckily, the doorbell rang at that moment... It was around 8.30pm when he drove into a dark, empty maidan. Scared, I asked him where we were. But he simply unzipped his pants and asked me to lick him! I told him no and urged him to let me go, but he pulled me by my hair and stuffed my face in his lap, hurling abuses.”
That was just one of the several sexual harassment accusations against Anu Malik, Bollywood’s music plagiarist par excellence. Malik refuted each of the claims by each of these women who recounted, in horrific detail, their stories last year. The music director was dropped from the panel of judges on the reality show Indian Idol. He disappeared even as his colleagues raised their voices in favour of and against him.
September 2019: A year since the #MeToo accusations, Anu Malik is preparing for his return on Indian Idol, the same reality show that dropped him in 2018. Malik has also released a single in between. “It came out of my pain of having work once upon a time and suddenly being out of work for no rhyme or reason. I always viewed life in a different way. For example, when I was flooded with offers and I was on radio, on television or giving music in films, I had so much work that I didn’t know when morning came and when night came. Suddenly, one day I find no producers or television shows; I was just sitting at home.” Well, Malik is not sitting at home anymore. He is all set to make his grand return as a judge on Indian Idol 10. All’s well that ends well. Except, not.
This director had even a star as big as Kangana Ranaut accusing of sexual misconduct. Vikas Bahl was named in #MeToo by an employee of his production house Phantom Films. Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane went ahead and dissolved Phantom after Vikas Bahl’s exit. Hrithik Roshan, who Bahl was working with on Super 30 when the #MeToo story broke, swiftly wrote on Twitter:
Bahl’s name was dropped from all Super 30 material.
September 2019: Super 30 was released. Vikas Bahl was ‘cleared of all charges’ by Super 30’s production house. Reliance Entertainment’s Group CEO told the media right before the release of the film, “Yes, it is that the internal complaints committee has exonerated Vikas Bahl. With ICC clearing Vikas Bahl’s name, we don’t have any choice but to reinstate his credit as director of Super 30.”
“We were shooting for a night scene and I had taken a change of costumes to him. Once I handed him the clothes, he started stripping in front of me. I was taken aback, and tried to make my way out of the room as soon as possible. When I tried to run out, he grabbed my hand and manhandled me. I remember yanking my hand out of his grip and rushing out of the room,” said a crew member who worked on Hum Saath Saath Hain.
Writer-producer Vinta Nanda accused Alok Nath of rape. Sandhya Mridul said #MeToo and “#TimesUp, Alok Nath.” A complaint was filed with the Mumbai Police. Alok Nath disappeared from the public eye for a few months.
September 2019: Well, it didn’t take Alok Nath the wait till September 2019 to be rehabilitated. In May this year, Ajay Devgn’s De De Pyaar De released in theatres with Alok Nath playing a major role in the film. But why was Alok Nath part of a film with a star as big as Ajay Devgn? Bollywood’s Singham had a feeble response in defence, “Coming to the question of having worked with Mr Alok Nath in my upcoming film De De Pyaar De, here I must put certain things in perspective. This film was supposed to be an October 2018 release. The shoot of the film got over by last September (2018). The portions with Mr Alok Nath were canned by August in Manali. The said portions were shot over 40 days across various sets and an outdoor location with a combination of over 10 actors. By the time the allegations came out (in October 2018) the actors in the film including me had already started work on other films.”
“Sajid Khan asked me to remove my clothes.”
“Sajid Khan told me if I could seduce him, the role was mine.”
“Sajid Khan talked about how large his p**** is.”
“Sajid Khan told me casting couch was not about one-time sex.”
Mandana Karimi, Rachel White, Saloni Chopra. These were just the few women who were brave enough to come out in the open and attack Sajid Khan for his sexual misconduct with them. Sajid was dropped from Housefull 4, an Akshay Kumar-starrer that he was directing. “In the wake of the allegations against me and the pressure being put on me and my family, the producers and stars of my film Housefull 4, I must take the moral responsibility of stepping down from my directorial post,” wrote Sajid Khan, announcing that he was out of Housefull 4.
September 2019: We have seen Sajid Khan hanging out at parties with Bollywood’s who’s who. An Independence Day post from Farah Khan credited her brother Sajid as the photographer. It was of a party at Farah’s place and had actors like Malaika Arora, Arjun Kapoor and Chunkey Panday in attendance apart from of course Farah.
Sajid has also written to IFTDA, which has banned him from working for a year: “I’m under suspension from the director’s association and am not working since the last six months. I will finish off my suspension period for the next few months and only then consider work,” said the director in April 2019. Next month marks a year of Sajid Khan being ‘out of work’. While we are yet to see if he gets welcomed back on the sets of a film, Bollywood sure has welcomed him back.
“Luv asked me to strip down to my bra and panties. He said he wanted to see my body so he could check if I needed to lose weight. He said they were not recording anything and the cinematographer would also leave the room, so I needn’t worry. After that, it all gets blurry. My heart was pounding and I rushed out saying I had to leave, and wasn’t comfortable with it... If a script decided the fate of a film, then even Amitabh [Bachchan] would have never given a flop. What will you understand from a script? I will make you look hot, you will have songs, I’ll make you a star.” And this was just the beginning of what an actress accused Pyaar Ka Punchnama director Luv Ranjan of doing to her.
September 2019: Luv Ranjan has been reinstated in Bollywood. Actors Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor have paid him a visit, most likely to discuss their upcoming film together. Twitter has screamed “#NotMyDeepika” and been aghast at the actress working with a #MeToo named director. In Bollywood, it’s just another usual day.
“I remember forming these words on my lips - ‘Sir. This is wrong... Because of this power structure. You being the absolute power and me being a mere assistant, a nobody — I will never be able to express myself to you. My mind, body and heart were grossly violated that night and for the next six months.” The woman, who accused Rajkumar Hirani of sexual misconduct during the shooting of Sanju, also wrote in an email that she couldn’t leave the job because her father was terminally ill. In the following months, Munna Bhai 3 was put on hold till Rajkumar Hirani’s name is cleared. His relationship with Vidhu Vinod Chopra was ‘strained’; his name as co-producer was dropped off Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga posters.
September 2019: Sanjay Dutt has backed his friend Hirani, saying that he did not believe in the #MeToo accusations against the Munna Bhai filmmaker. Sharman Joshi, Javed Akhtar, Sonam Kapoor have also defended Rajkumar Hirani in the past months. Atul Kasbekar, on his Instagram, shared a photo of Hirani travelling with him to Delhi this February. Hirani then was invited as jury head to Malaysia International Film Festival in May 2019; followed by Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Kapoor showering their love on ‘Raju’ on social media the same month. As for Munna Bhai 3, it too will probably take off soon.
“He asked me to enact a scene which had the hero and the heroine hugging each other. Under the pretext of showing me how the scene should be performed, he grabbed me hard and felt me up. I could feel his hand on my butt. I was shell-shocked and immediately withdrew. He realised [my trepidation] and started vehemently apologising. At one point, he said, I thought you were fine with it because other girls are,” was one of the women’s accounts of being sexually harassed by casting director Mukesh Chhabra. Chhabra was dropped as the director of Kizzie Aur Manny following the allegations. Star India, in a statement, said that Mukesh Chhabra was being suspended as the director of the film till his name was cleared by an Internal Complaints Committee.
September 2019: Mukesh Chhabra is making his acting debut with Ekta Kapoor’s Alt Balaji-produced web series Fixer. The Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE) couldn’t find him guilty of the accusations. He is back as the director of Kizzie Aur Manny too, albeit, now titled Dil Bechara. Bechara? Not quite.
“He slowly started putting his hand on my thigh, giving me a big hug saying I did good that day. Then he’d call me to script sessions at his small apartment in Lokhandwala. This was where he said he’d do script sessions with other actresses. When I went there though there was no one and he was alone in his two-bedroom place. This was not the house he stayed in with his wife. This was, he said, his thinking pad. Instead of script session, he started talking about how he was so misunderstood in the industry and only I was the one who loved him. He pretended to weep, and put his head on my lap. Then when he was getting up he kissed me forcefully. I was shocked and left that day.” Several women accused director Subhash Ghai of sexual misconduct, including drugging and rape, last year. Complaints were filed with the police too.
September 2019: Over the past one year, Subhash Ghai has been seen at several Bollywood gatherings and has spoken his heart out on how his ‘love and affection’ were mistaken for sexual misconduct. He has been handed a clean chit by the Mumbai Police. Subhash Ghai is now “looking forward to his film” with Jackie Shroff and Anil Kapoor.
Meanwhile, in a courtroom in Delhi, journalist Priya Ramani battles the mighty MJ.
“Your so-called dream of being a journalist was not contingent upon your being hired by the Asian Age.”
A year since #MeToo broke in India, our women, who fight these battles every day to work towards fulfilling their ‘so-called dreams’, are a little more conscious today. There is Twitter for the privileged few. For many, many of the others, the ‘so-called dreams’ are smothered by the high and the mighty. Who drag their accusers to court to tell them yes, you too. So what?