The filmmaker was the lone man on a panel discussing the #MeToo movement in India at the 20th Mumbai film festival.
Kabir Khan on #MeToo: In a certain sense, we have all been complicit
Mumbai - 28 Oct 2018 10:00 IST
An important conversation began at the ongoing Mumbai Film Festival on the #MeToo movement in India. Moderated by filmmaker Ruchi Narain, the panel consisted of actress Renuka Shahane, filmmakers Anjali Menon and Shonali Bose. Director Kabir Khan was the only man on the panel.
Moderator Ruchi Narain joked that he was the token male on the panel, just like women are often invited to be the lone female voice on most panels.
She further said she had contacted several male filmmakers to participate in the discussion — they were all suddenly out of the country — and Khan was the only one who agreed to come.
When the audience applauded, the filmmaker said, “To be applauded to just come here, it speaks a lot about the society we are living in. I shouldn’t be applauded for being normal.”
Ruchi Narain then asked him about his feelings about the conversations that were emerging after the #MeToo movement began.
“There is so much that has been happening and we have all been thinking about how, in a certain sense, we have all been complicit," he said. "Maybe I’m in a position of power, but I have seen people all around me fall left, right and centre, and these are people I have worked with. These are people who represented me [and] who have done casting for me.
"Some of them, we had heard about. There were hushed whispers about most of them. There is a general consensus that most of the people whose names have come up are people whom we seemed to have known about, but we all did keep quiet.”
In his 12 years as a filmmaker, both of documentaries and then features, Kabir Khan said he had heard about the behaviour of certain people, but like everyone else chose to ignore it.
“Now when I think back about it, the biggest change that is coming out of this #MeToo movement is that we are not going to do that any more,” he stated. “The moment I hear even a murmur about something like this, I am going to come down like a ton of bricks on it. I must say that I am fortunate, on my own sets things like this have not happened, or at least that I don’t know of.”
Khan’s long-time associate director, Karishma Kohli, has worked on most of his films and more than half of his assistant directors are women.
“I don’t think we should ever ignore these hushed whispers," Kabir Khan continued. "The moment you hear about something like this, I think it’s our responsibility as head of the set, we have to find out what’s happening. Whether it’s on or off the set.”
Afterwards, Ruchi Narain asked Khan whether he would rethink or reconsider the kind of characters he was writing for his future films. Would it be possible to show patriarchal characters, but with a difference on screen?
“No, I’m sure you can still show these characters, it’s about how you represent them,” he replied. “Ultimately, at the end of the film, what is the comment you are trying to make?
"I don’t know about my films being masculine. I react to stories. My characters come from within me. [In] Bajrangi Bhaijaan (2015), I don’t know whether it’s about the girl or is it about Salman [Khan]. In fact, on set, I used to always joke with Salman that it’s about her, you are the supporting actor.”
The filmmaker said he believes his women characters are all strong. For instance, Zoya from Ek Tha Tiger (2012) kicks ass just like her counterpart Tiger does. He attributed his strong worldview to the women in his life growing up, his mother and sister.
But he did say he would take a re-look at the content in his films to see how it reflects his views on the world.
“I think it is important for everybody to get sensitized about how we are looking at women in our films," he said. "Yes, the fact of the matter is, predominantly in our mainstream cinema, we are not happy with the way women are presented. And that definitely needs to change because mainstream cinema is an extremely powerful medium, probably the most powerful medium in this country.” That was part of the reason why he moved from documentaries to feature films.