News WrapGet Handpicked Stories from our editors directly to your mailbox

The two ugly faces of sexual assault in Bollywood

There is a mindset that lets some feel entitled to exploit. Then there's the other where failure converts consenting adults into victims.

Updated: Jun 29, 2018, 22:35 PM IST

The MeToo movement in America after Harvey Weinstein was exposed has touched Asia, what with women coming forward in Pakistan to make startling allegations of sexual harassment against singer-actor Ali Zafar. 

But according to Aditi Rao Hydari, who has worked with Ali, the problem is not Ali or any one individual. It is the male mindset which feels it is empowered and sanctioned to treat women the way it wants to. Aditi who has been at the receiving-end of unwanted male attention feels the male gaze must stop falling on disempowered women who do not know how to deal with predatory patriarchal attention. 

Says Aditi, "A lot of the times when such an incident happens there is the fear of being ostracized by the film industry, of not getting work. That fear should be dispelled. Whenever I've faced situations that have made me uncomfortable I've turned down the project. Have I lost out on good work because of my refusal to ignore unacceptable behaviour? I may have. But at least I can look myself into the eye when I look in the mirror."

However there is the other side to this awful crisis of credibility where the male feels he is entitled to misbehave, and even when he doesn't misbehave his every move is looked on with suspicion.

Some years ago a young married actor with a child lost his face and career when the house help accused him of rape. The actor spent considerable time in the cleaner, came out on bail and has now reached an out-of-court settlement with the alleged victim who has withdrawn the case.

Insistent whispers allege she was part of a gang that extorts money from "empowered" male sections after accusing them falsely of rape.

There is always this danger that if you are a man in a position of power you will misuse that power. But there is also the equally imminent danger, never considered seriously, that if you don't use that power in the way a woman wants she may use your power against you.

We've the case of a well-known filmmaker and a reasonably recognizable singer being accused of rape by a woman whom they had known for years. Both were finally cleared by the courts.

The very articulate and decorous actress Dia Mirza feels the cult of sexual exploitation is often a bogey used willingly by the "victim" initially but eventually disowned as being unwanted attention after the arrangement of mutual benefit runs its course. 

Says Dia, "We must examine the circumstances that foster and encourage men to misuse their power. I think there is almost nothing worse than empowered men using their power to get sexual favours out of upcoming aspirants, both women …and men too. Let's not forget men are as susceptible to being sexually exploited as women."

Dia agrees with Amitabh Bachchan in Pink when he says a woman's no means a no. But Dia is also concerned with how persuasive and convincing that no is. "I've been a part of this entertainment industry for 20 years. I've seen how ambitious youngsters avail of sexual favours to make their way up the ladder, not realizing that the short cuts are never a dependable route to success. Why should the onus of such youngsters' moral compromise only be on the exploitative elements in the entertainment industry? If you are old enough to seek job opportunities you are old enough to know when you are being told to compromise for the sake of the opportunities. After that the choice is entirely yours. I never took that route of seeking favours by being 'nice' to people who matter. For this I've been called boring. I refuse to see that epithet as an insult. I wear it as a badge of honour."

Many actresses and even actors in the male industry have chosen to give sexual favours in return for the promise of work. Is it right for them to turn around and cry rape after they achieve some success (and hence are empowered enough to say no unwanted attention) or when they don't get the rewards that pushed them to compromise with their sexuality?

As the Kathua gangrape and murder reminds us, the atmosphere of vitiation and perversion has touched an all-time high in our country. The nation's morale and morality are at an all-time low. Let's not waste time running after offenders who become offenders after not keeping their promise. 

The real problem is the offenders who sexually violate women and children to subjugate and dominate them. Not women and men who are fully in control of their minds and body when consenting to sexual compromises.

(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.)