Indian Cinema’s #MeToo Moment

Elizabeth Crawford, Staff Writer

It’s been a little over a year since the downfall of producer and sexual predator Harvey Weinstein. His ousting catalyzed a cultural reckoning in the United States film industry that has forced Hollywood to address the way women are treated when the cameras aren’t rolling. #MeToo demands harassers be held accountable and seeks to empower formerly silenced women, many of whom have since come forward with harrowing accounts of sexual assault.

In 2008, Bollywood actress Tanushree Dutta found herself trapped in her car with a smashed windshield, surrounded by a mob infuriated that she dared raise allegations against actor Nana Patekar. While co-starring in 2009’s “Horn OK Pleassss,” Patekar allegedly demanded that an erotic dance scene be added so that he could grope Dutta. Dutta brought this story to various media outlets, which ran it for a short while, but, as these things go, the headlines faded and the underlying issues never seemed to stick. Following this, Dutta left India and stopped acting altogether. Only in the wake of #MeToo and the support from other women, 10 years later, has she found the strength within herself to share her story again.

In an interview with the Hindustan Times, Vinta Nanda, a prominent Bollywood filmmaker, shared that she was one among many women who had been waiting until they felt “allowed” to speak up. Nanda herself has accused veteran actor Alok Nath of raping her in her own home — a nearly two-decade-old allegation. Condemned to silence for 19 years by a glaring, socially-imposed stigma, she feels this movement can finally be her moment to break her silence.

Most who have spoken up in Hollywood had their careers on the line. A woman may be shamed by her industry for speaking out against sexual harassment. But take that possible public humiliation with the additional threat of physical violence that looms over Indian women and it’s obvious the stakes are quite different.

Hollywood’s #MeToo movement still has a ways to go before this particular abuse of power is fully understood and can continue to undergo important changes. Given this, it seems absurd that anyone would call its Indian analog late or “comparatively modest,” but it has happened and is happening in the subliminal distinction made by The New York Times. The article’s implicit categorization of India’s #MeToo movement as late is the product of a prevailing ideology in our society, one of East-West comparative modernism. It often goes unnoticed that progress in other areas of the world is weighed and valued in light of Western convention, but it is important to acknowledge this so that we may not diminish a movement that is so necessary for women across the globe.

To remark about the supposedly tardy arrival of this particular social movement in Bollywood is to minimize the struggles that women in these countries have had to overcome — it’s wrong and outright unfair. Granted, it is supremely difficult for any woman to share a traumatic experience, and those who have have shown unfathomable courage by making themselves so vulnerable. However, one must consider the culture of the country in which a woman lives before they can pass judgment on the punctuality of its welcoming of #MeToo.

Bollywood’s evolution is arguably slower because there are considerably harsher constructs embedded into Indian society that perpetuate and normalize these acts against women.

What does coping look like in the absence of consequence? Of closure? Of retribution? Who does a woman turn to when society invalidates her experience? Their pain is left to fester and years are spent struggling with themselves instead of with the culture that allowed this to not only happen, but to be quietly swept into insignificance. Until now. Women are becoming each other’s witnesses, opening up about what they have endured and what they have been broken by. It’s nothing less than revolutionary, whether it be happening in the states or across the world.

Email Elizabeth Crawford at [email protected]

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