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Renuka Shahane on #MeToo: Important to separate the art from the person

The actress was part of a panel discussion on the #MeToo movement, with filmmakers Anjali Menon, Shonali Bose and Kabir Khan, at the 20th Mumbai film festival.

Sonal Pandya

On the first day of film screenings at the 20th Mumbai film festival today, a conversation about culture, content and conduct after the #MeToo movement hit India was also held.

The conversation was moderated by filmmaker Ruchi Narain and the panel featured actress Renuka Shahane and filmmakers Anjali Menon, Shonali Bose and Kabir Khan.

They were joined by casting director Tess Joseph, cinematographer Neha Parti, writer Suhani Kanwar and actresses Parvathy and Padmapriya.

Ruchi Narain began the talk by asking Shahane about her early stance in support of actress Tanushree Dutta last month when she spoke out against Nana Patekar and his mistreatment of her on the sets of Horn OK Pleassss (2009) in 2008.

Shahane said she wanted to separate the art from the person and therefore made her initial post on social media.

“I have been a huge fan of [famed British director] Alfred Hitchcock, but he was terrible to his heroines," she said. "We have seen cases like that in people we really admire. I worked with people I have really admired on set and they have had feet of clay.”

Shahane stressed that in a work environment, there should be mutual respect. As a film and television industry veteran, she mentioned how these issues were swept under the carpet for long and women simply had to "adjust".

“You kind of look after yourself in ways which no one should have to," she said. "It’s a question of just being safe at the workplace when you go there and just being treated as a human being who has to be respected.

"If you have been taken up for a job, that means you are good at it. You are not taken up ... to titillate the director or sit on the lap of the producer. No, that’s not the way the industry should function,” she said to applause from the audience.

She also said she felt compelled to speak up for Datta as it appeared that no one else on the sets at the time of the incident was looking into any other option to resolve the problem.

“What got my gall was that there were four men there, very powerful men, who were teaming up against a person, who could have very well teamed up and solved the problem," she said. "[They] could have teamed up and said we are not able to work with you, we want to replace you. There are ways and means of doing it. Rather than intimidate the person, call goons, harass the person, and then, finally replace. If you weren’t willing to change your creative vision, change that one step where Tanushree might have felt uncomfortable, but you changed an entire person at the end of it!

“So why couldn’t you be slightly more adaptive to her needs at that point? She is not some slave, she is an actor. She has achieved something, that is why you have chosen her.”

She said many things were going on in her mind and it was important for her to take a stand. “Just because somebody is a mind-blowing, awesome actor, has done so much social service in life, and hats off to that, but [that person] can be a misogynist. His behaviour towards women can be atrocious,” she stated.

Later, she admitted she got a lot of negative feedback from social media but said it was part and parcel of having an opinion.

The conversation was the first in a series planned for the festival in the wake of the #MeToo movement roiling Indian cinema and the media. Festival director Anupama Chopra and chairperson Kiran Rao were in the audience for the talk.

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