Article Hindi

Film industry reaction on #MeToo very different from 1992, when Anupam Kher was accused

The dropping of suspect directors Sajid Khan, Subhash Kapoor and Vikas Bahl like hot potatoes is a far cry from the days when it would gang up against magazines publishing 'gossip' on similar lines.

Shriram Iyengar

Subhash Kapoor. Vikas Bahl. Sajid Khan. The list of directors stepping down or being ousted from projects following allegations of sexual harassment is on the rise.

Since the first shot was fired by actress Tanushree Dutta against veteran actor Nana Patekar, the exposure of the sexual harassment and misbehaviour against women that is rampant in the film industry has snowballed beyond the ability of public-relations agencies to manage the narrative.

While, sadly, stories of actors and directors misbehaving are not new, the corrective measures instituted by the industry give rise to optimism. From sacking directors to instituting anti-sexual harassment clauses, the Hindi film industry is finally administering to itself a bitter dose of medicine for a longstanding sickness.

The Kher Incident

A comparison could be made with the 1990s, an age when cinema was restricted to the back pages of newspapers and glitzy image-heavy magazines peddled salacious gossip. Even in those days, there were occasional reports that shook the industry.

One such was an accusation against actor Anupam Kher of molesting a starlet on the location of a shoot in Bangalore. However, it was Kher's reaction to the reporter who pursued the story that hogged the limelight.

The actor ignored calls from the reporter for a reaction. When the reporter approached Kher on the sets of Yash Chopra's Parampara (1992), he slapped him. The industry then called for a blanket 'ban' on six magazines for their 'slanderous gossip'.

Kher even took the magazine concerned to court. But Stardust, from the Magna stables, went ahead and published the report in its July 1992 edition. The court considered it contempt and ordered the editor and manager to pay a fine of Rs500.

A report in the New York Times newspaper, published on 6 September 1992, quoted Kher as saying, "I felt that I had to take a stand. This was a total lie and if I did not stand up to it, I could not face myself any longer."

How Times Change

Contrast this with the current situation. While the news flow has been continuous, the media has been, literally, two steps behind. It is social media, through platforms like Twitter and Facebook, which has empowered the victimized women to step up and call out some of the prominent names in the industry for their obnoxious, even criminal, behaviour.

With the growing number of women employed in the industry, even in technical departments that were once male preserves, the number of voices rising in support has only grown. Actresses, assistant directors, directors have all spoken up.

In 1992, this was not the case. The industry banded together to support Kher. In a report by NDTV, which was then producing news content for the state-owned Doordarshan, about the industry's feud with the media, Sanjay Dutt is seen saying, "He [Kher] just slapped the journalist, I would have killed him." 

There was some justification for the reaction. In 1987, Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar had taken the same Stardust to court for publishing statements made by anonymous sources. The couple claimed that the statements were made up and demanded that the magazine disclose its sources.

The magazine refused, citing confidentiality of sources, but the court ruled in favour of the couple. (Freedom of the Press : Using the Law to Defend Journalists, Pg 76-77)

Such instances had caused the industry to be suspicious of the media. In video interviews with NDTV, Kher and Mithun Chakraborty, then president of the Cine Artistes' Association, made the same point. "They have made a business out of selling our hurt, our wounds," said Kher. 

But the magazine stood by its report. Joint editor Omar Qureshi, in the same NDTV news report, said, "We definitely stand by it, and we can substantiate it when the time comes."

One of the voices in support of Kher at the time was that of actress Dimple Kapadia. Her daughter Twinkle Khanna, wife of the prolific star Akshay Kumar, has taken the side of the women accusing the men in the industry in the recent #MeToo movement.

#MeToo Campaign

The thin line between truth and libel is rapidly disappearing on social media. Varun Grover, writer of the Netflix original series Sacred Games, was among those accused of sexual harrasment and had to put out a defence.

Writer Apurva Asrani pointed out after a couple of purported victims retracted their accusations: "Maybe we all need to take stock about how easily we share and accuse without verification. Some self regulation," Asrani wrote on his Twitter page. 

The reason for the 'self regulation' Asrani advocates is down to the impact these allegations on social media are having on people's careers. 

The dissolution of Phantom Films by Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane is being attributed by many to the allegations of sexual misconduct against partner Vikas Bahl. Bahl's reputation has since nosedived and the director even risks losing credit for his upcoming film, Super 30 (2019), starring Hrithik Roshan.

Actor-producer Aamir Khan and T-Series had to rethink their choice of director after actress Geetika Tyagi reminded them of her accusations against director Subhash Kapoor. Bhushan Kumar, head of T-Series, sent out a statement soon after, saying, "With the on-going proceedings against the director that is brought to our notice, everyone at T-Series has decided to not work with the director."

The latest to fall from the pedestal has been director Sajid Khan. After three different women accused the director of sexually inappropriate and lewd behaviour, Khan was sacked from his next project, Housefull 4. 

Now And Then

Apart from the quarter-century that has passed since the Kher case, the industry itself has undergone a sea change. Hindi cinema is now a global product. With Brad Pitt hobnobbing with Shah Rukh Khan and Will Smith shooting the breeze with Karan Johar and Ranveer Singh, the industry's decisions have an impact on business on a global scale. 

It is no surprise that the rapid deployment of corrective measures is in tune with the way Hollywood reacted to the scandals of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Quentin Tarantino. While Weinstein's studio, The Weinstein Company, collapsed and was taken over, Spacey was booted out of a successful franchise — House Of Cards — and replaced within months.

The second factor forcing the hand of the industry bigwigs is the open statements by well-known names from within the industry. Whether it is Tanushree Dutta, Saloni Chopra, Vinta Nanda, Navneet Nishan, Flora Saini or Geetika Tyagi, these are not people who can be brushed aside as mere gossip mongers.

In addition, there are several prominent members of the industry who are ready to offer support, at least on social media. Farhan Akhtar, Swara Bhasker, Sonam Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra, Richa Chadha and Chinmayi Sripaada are among the prominent names who have been praising the work of these social media crusaders in calling out alleged abusers. 

Social Media Power

As for social media itself, the platform is a vital space for the film industry. Production houses are loath to lose their brand image on a platform that enables them to reach out to potential audiences across the globe. 

From film promotions to brand establishments, there is a great deal that goes into maintaining a strong social media presence. These accusations against directors often hit the brand image of production houses and, worse, of actors. 

No wonder, it is the stars who have chosen to take decisive action. These include Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar and Emraan Hashmi. While Khan and Akshay Kumar are known for their socially conscious personalities, Hashmi's decision to add anti-sexual harassment clauses in his company's employment contract comes as a welcome change. 

This does not mean the entire industry is speaking up. The silence at the top is deafening. Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar and, most prominently, Amitabh Bachchan remain quiet. Although Bachchan put out a fairly generic statement on his birthday, the veteran refused to comment on the Tanushree Dutta issue when it was put to him soon after her allegations were made.

Comment: The importance of being Amitabh

The Future

The #MeToo movement is in full swing and while the news media has also seen its share of lecherous old editors being exposed, the film industry, being the more visible and glamorous, is in its grip. It will be impossible for the stars to duck questions about the integrity of their industry in the near future. 

Though delayed, steps are being taken by the Producers' Guild of India, the Cine and Television Artistes Association (CINTAA) and the Federation of Western Indian Cine Employees (FWICE) to curb sexual harassment on sets. 

FWICE to set up cell to look into complaints of sexual harassment

Yet, one cannot help but feel that the industry is just being reactive rather than proactive.

Related topics

Sexual harassment