#MeToo, the 'phantom' support, and its dangers

Anonymity just won't do any more

 |  3-minute read |   08-10-2018
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Last year, Bollywood experienced what can now be termed as the first lash of the #MeToo wave, when a newspaper article accused Queen director, Vikas Bahl of sexual misconduct towards his colleague, both working under the now-dissolved Phantom Films banner. While the article caused quite a stir, the ‘source’ that this quote was attributed to was anonymous. A year later, Anurag Kashyap, co-founder of Phantom Films along with Vikas, reveals it was him.

An ‘anonymous source quote’ is a double-edged sword, as most journalists and readers would agree. There is little or no scope to attest if it’s the truth. And how can one punish another based on a ghost quote? But today, when the likes of Anurag come forward with strong statements against both the crime and the perpetrator, there’s enough meat in it for us to sink our teeth into.

So, the question is what stopped Anurag last year?

Anurag had two years — from 2015, when the incident was first brought to his notice, to last year — to do everything in his way to stand up against an act he condemns. Yet, he chose to condemn it anonymously. Anurag ‘named and shamed’ Vikas in private amongst peers and whoever asked about it — but he chose to do it in private.

“While at Phantom, I did everything I could, within what I was told by my partners and their lawyers.... And according to legal advice provided to me then, I was told that we (Phantom) had very limited options. Now in hindsight and after taking stock of things myself, I can quite see how I was ill-advised,” said Anurag in a statement he tweeted. Apparently, and to everyone’s shock, Vikas couldn’t be removed because, firstly, he was an equal partner, and more importantly, there was no clause in their contracts that enabled firing him ‘on grounds of misconduct’.

phantom_100818042428.jpgThe Phantom co-founders (Photo: Phantom FIlms/Facebook)

When Tanushree Dutta went all guns blazing against Nana Patekar a couple of weeks ago, the audience was divided into two — the we-support-Tanushrees and the why-now-why-not-back-thens, when funnily, she had, in fact, been screaming from the rooftops since 2008. In the case of Phantom Films vs victim, however, everything was kept covered with the cloak of invisibility, and perhaps intentionally so.

For I don’t buy it when Anurag says “corroborating the story is also taking a stand,” especially if it’s done anonymously.

And it is even more difficult to believe that the same guy who defended Tarun Tejpal in the Tehelka rape case, apparently based on the body language of Tarun and the woman entering and exiting the hotel elevator where the alleged crime took place, would do everything in his way to out Vikas.

So, what could Anurag’s present statements actually mean?

Is he a changed man today, different from that guy from 2014, and has a better understanding of sexual harassment? Or is he trying to play the male feminist card by calling Vikas out? Is he trying to win brownie points by packaging his anonymous tip as a favour that actually got the ball rolling? Or is he trying to simply play the victim here who was caught in company legalities and let morality wither away?

The problem with a phantom-like support, such as this, is that it takes away more from the issue at hand than it adds. We get caught up in a web of alternative points of view that ought not to cloud our judgments. Staying anonymous at such a juncture only steers us towards gossip and speculation, and further away from the truth. Or, we end up discussing Anurag (like we just did) when we ought to be discussing Vikas. 

Anurag, all you've done with this seemingly harmless statement is draw the limelight towards you and away from the actual issue.

The actual issue is that in the wee hours of May 4th, Vikas Bahl tried to force himself on a woman, failed to acknowledge her refusal, and as a punishment for her refusal, masturbated on her. And the next morning, he made a pitiful attempt to gaslight her, perhaps hoping that she was too drunk the previous night to remember anything. 

Also read: The tragedy of Indian comedy: Why we can't afford to laugh at your jokes anymore

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