Is there a Harvey Weinstein in Bollywood?

By Bhushan Salunke
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He’s lurking around, though no one in the industry is willing to acknowledge it

The #MeToo movement has shaken Hollywood to the core. It has exposed the bad behaviour of a few Hollywood men, who have, allegedly, sexually harassed or assaulted women, dating back decades. Now, a few of the women have found the courage to come forward and relate their experiences. Better late than never! The general public is also shocked to learn of this ugly side of Hollywood, amidst all its glamour and tinsel, which it never knew existed. All that glitters is not gold.

The big bad boy for such alleged misbehaviour is Harvey Weinstein, who has allegations levelled against him by a record number of women (90 at the last count) including Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Heather Graham, Asia Argento etc. How he managed to keep all his affairs under the radar, from his wife and others, for so many decades, is mind-boggling. He had even fooled Meryl Streep, who called him “God” during her Oscar award acceptance speech in 2012.

Weinstein, though, has repeatedly denied all allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct and any non-consensual sexual activity and is fighting back in court.

This #MeToo tsunami set off by Hollywood has reached a few shores around the world but has amazingly by-passed Bollywood. So, why has Bollywood not outed its very own Harvey Weinstein?

No Bollywood woman has come forward with any explosive #MeToo stories involving a high profile celebrity. Daisy Irani has recounted her experience, about 60 years ago, when she had been raped as a child. Mona Mathews, a belly dancer, has said that she had been asked if she was “willing to compromise” by a film producer. None of the “empowered” and feminist women such as Priyanka Chopra and Deepika Padukone are leading the #MeToo manhunt brigade. They have only offered lip service to the cause. Konkona Sen Sharma, Kangana Ranaut and Radhika Apte have raised their voices, but it’s not a battle cry, just a whimper. There’s no blood on the floor.

“Nepotism and favouritism are rife in the industry. People, outside of the Bollywood industry, may find the going tough if they don’t comply with the unwritten “Bollywood code of conduct””

Bollywood’s Weinstein is still as elusive as the Loch Ness monster.

Bollywood may never face its #MeToo storm, for a number of reasons.

First, Bollywood is a closed group, controlled by the Kumars, Kapoors & Khans, almost in a cult-like environment. Bollywood is mainly composed of people who are sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, and friends of former actors and film personalities. Relations in Bollywood are built and cemented with strategic alliances and connections. Nepotism and favouritism are rife in the industry. People, outside of the Bollywood industry, may find the going tough if they don’t comply with the unwritten “Bollywood code of conduct”.

There is a strong feeling of camaraderie in the Bollywood club with the members watching each other’s backs. Bollywood rallying behind the actors Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt, who have been convicted of crime, is a good example of this. “My heart goes out to Salman Khan. I feel this is too harsh,” actor Arjun Rampal tweeted, when Salman Khan was found guilty by the court and sentenced. So, Bollywood will shield its “black sheep” and will be highly reluctant to sacrificing it. Also, the Bollywood-crazy general public will refuse to come to terms with the prospect of their idol getting knocked off the pedestal, as some of these celebrities are literally worshipped. Can you imagine any woman coming forward to accuse, say Salman Khan, even though his womanising ways are legendary and well-documented?

Second, the casting couch culture in Bollywood is well, alive and thriving, despite any news to the contrary. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about but used to advantage, by all concerned. Veteran Bollywood choreographer Saroj Khan has said that the “practice of casting couch has been going on since a long time”, adding that “the film industry offers livelihood and doesn’t leave someone after raping them”.

Actor Shatrughan Sinha said that “sexual favours are demanded and given in the entertainment world and it’s an old and time-tested way of getting ahead in life”. He termed it “a personal choice”. BBC has even produced a documentary, Bollywood’s Dark Secrets, on the Indian film industry’s casting couch scene.

“In a typical item number song, a woman is surrounded by dozens of men leering at her body and drooling all over her while she gyrates to catchy music and raunchy lyrics (Anyone for “I am a tandoori chicken/you can guzzle me down with some alcohol”?)”

Third, Bollywood has a track record for sexualising and objectifying women for a long time, on the silver screen. In yesteryear films, the hero’s sister’s sole purpose was to get raped by the villain, dancer Helen’s contribution to the story was a sizzling “cabaret number” and the “rain song” was employed to get the heroine wet to the skin, merely to titillate. Nowadays, the rape, cabaret & rain song, which were integral part of old movies, have been replaced with “item numbers” and “soft porn bedroom scenes”. In a typical item number song, a woman is surrounded by dozens of men leering at her body and drooling all over her while she gyrates to catchy music and raunchy lyrics (Anyone for “I am a tandoori chicken/you can guzzle me down with some alcohol”?). The bewildering thing is that these item number songs are a favourite with young and old in India. Besides, the mainstream Bollywood movies, “B grade” movies from Bhojpuri, Kerala, Bengal etc have further degraded the perception of women, with their soft porn movies. If Bollywood can openly sexualise women, for public consumption, what else may be happening behind the scenes?

Fourth, the nexus between the criminal underworld and Bollywood is strong. The production cost of Bollywood movies are largely financed by the murky underworld, and Bollywood celebrities are often seen rubbing shoulders with the mafia at lavish parties. Film director Mahesh Bhatt once observed that “there’s hardly anybody in the film industry who has not been contacted by the mafia.” The attempted contract killing of director Rakesh Roshan by the mafia, on the issue of film distribution rights, exemplifies this threat.

If it has taken the women in Hollywood decades to garner the courage to come up with #MeToo, wonder how long it will take Bollywood?

 

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Madmimi


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