News WrapGet Handpicked Stories from our editors directly to your mailbox

Bollywood's MeToo movement has been tragically derailed by opportunists, publicity-seekers

"I didn't know any better," or, "I was afraid I'd lose my job," are not quite the alibis that serve the MeToo movement well.

Updated: Oct 24, 2018, 17:14 PM IST

Sussanne Khan is not wrong. There are indeed lots of pretence and false allegations in the MeToo movement that has gripped the Indian entertainment industry.

I am sorry to say the wonderful, pathbreaking movement has been hijacked by opportunists and publicity-seekers. Yup, the movement meant to move men from their misogynist mindsets, stands tragically derailed. Thinly veiled threats and naked slander are being masqueraded as manifestations of a movement that meant to set the gender equation right.

The raging outrage against sexual misconduct has turned in no time into a blind subjective target-shooting practice for people who have nothing better to do than think of ways to cause discomfort in the lives of those who are far more famous - and hence far more vulnerable -  than those being attacked.

Almost every hour a new name is being hurled into the social media space. Wild allegations, unsubstantiated by facts and figures. It's the coming-of-age of the cult of careless whispers. The other day it was Alok Nath, who was so shaken he told me, "I don't know what to say. And I can't say nothing. Because not saying anything is seen as a sign of guilt."

A day ago it was Subhash Ghai. A day later it's Bhushan Kumar. Who is it going to be tomorrow?

Now, there is a hairdresser who has issued a warning to Mr Bachchan that he will be exposed.

Really? The plot, as they say, sickens.

It's a free-for-all among Bollywood's namers and shamers. As a producer-friend said to me half-jokingly, "Anyone and everyone is being pulled up. In my 40-year career, I've never misbehaved with any woman. This is not to say I am a saint. Of course, I've had my share of flings. But there was never any hint of persuasion or force. What if one of those women now claim I raped her? What would I do?"

It is a valid fear that grips the Indian entertainment industry as the long-due MeToo movement sweeps across its corridors.

"Gandgi saaf ho rahi hai. Bahut acchi baat hai," a very humble and civil superstar said to me. Ironically, his name is also being whispered as one of the potential harassers.

That is ridiculous, because he doesn't need to bully women into submission. They fall at his feet even before he says hello to them. I've seen women literally swoon in front of him. If the fetid corridors of la la land need cleaning up, it isn't because the casting couch has been used excessively. It is because women have allowed men to get away with bad behaviour because it suited their purposes.

Sajid Khan is undoubtedly a sexpest. Everyone knows it for years now. But I've seen how a heroine, a top name today, played up to him and then dumped him when a big superstar got interested in her. That's getting quite a kick out of life. 

"The big heroes don't even know it is misbehaviour. They have never been called out for it. Everyone knows sexual favours are not only sought but also given willingly. I am sorry. But women who use such favours to amplify their ambitions cannot stand up now as part of the MeToo movement," says Chitrangada Singh, who was a victim of on-set harassment when director Kushan Nandy tried to bully her into doing a making-out sequence with Nawazuddin without a saree in a petticoat and blouse.

When she protested, she was labelled difficult. This is an instant-replay version of what transpired with Tanushree Dutta, the true pioneer of the MeToo movement in the Indian entertainment industry.

The legitimate protest against misconduct at the workplace has now been derailed by allegations that make no sense. Simply throwing allegations of harassment anonymously won't work against powerful pre-warned people who already have a fleet of lawyers preparing an offence in the form of a defence.

"I didn't know any better," or, "I was afraid I'd lose my job," are not quite the alibis that serve the MeToo movement well. I know a number of very successful female actors who slept their way to stardom. Are they going to turn around now and say they were taken advantage of? 

The lines between consent and coercion are blissfully blurred now. Mob lynching seems to be overtaking the MeToo movement. And that's the worst that can happen to a movement meant to set right the askew gender equations in an abominably patriarchal entertainment industry.

(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)