Recently a video from the sets of The Great India Laughter Challenge was leaked and it sure had an offensive comment made by the said superstar. The comment was directed at Mallika Dua, after which, she spoke to Quint and here is her open letter:
I’ve had the good fortune of being virtually puked on by Akshay Kumar’s hooligan-ish fans for over 24 hours. It seemed less like fans supporting their idol and more like a bunch of men scramming to protect their licenses to speak to women inappropriately and get away with it. “Itna mazaak toh chalta hai”. Oh, well.
Recently, a video was leaked from within Star Plus. It shows a comic expertly mimicking the PM as part of his audition act on The Great Indian Laughter Challenge. The contestant was lauded by the ringing of the ceremonial golden bell that led to his selection into the show. Unfortunately, he was later asked to scrap the PM Modi mimicry act and the video was not aired for reasons best known to God. As I rang the golden bell for this contestant on set, I was “jest-fully” told by one of Bollywood’s biggest stars Akshay Kumar, “Mallika ji aap bell bajaaiye, main aapko bajaata hoon”. I ignored it and went back to shooting.
However, when this video was leaked, I was questioned about the lines said to me and about how they made me feel at the time and why I didn’t react then.
Well, this shit makes us uncomfortable AF and we hate it. However, we are not the emotional fools most take us to be. I refuse to act on impulse and jeopardize my career for a race of crass alpha males with licenses to make us cringe. It amounts to committing suicide just because every second person in the world is an asshole or not crossing the road because accidents happen. So yes, we are 100% complicit in letting it pass, sometimes for our own sake.
If every woman was to quit her work and protest for what she is subjected to, there would be no woman working.
The comment made to me was undoubtedly and perhaps unintentionally crass, “Mallika ji, aap bell bajaao, main aapko bajaata hoon”. This kind of banter or even sharing a cackle with Rohit Shetty while vulgarly demonstrating just how sexually inappropriate dress-men on a film set can be, is nauseating and reeks of casual sexism and age old Bollywood entitlement. It’s normalised to such an extent that even I didn’t make a huge deal of it. I’m a huge part of the problem. Do not make this about Akshay Kumar and trivialise it. It’s about all of us.
To those who shame us for the characters we play, for example Tinder Aunty, these CHARACTERS are not speaking to you directly, they’re not your colleagues or fellow citizens, hell they aren’t even real! And above all they’re not forcing themselves upon you. Go ahead and protect your fragile, sexist and convenient morality nonetheless, but don’t you dare, tell us that we don’t have the right to address issues because we play sexually unabashed characters.
Is Kareena Kapoor not entitled to speak about things because she played Chameli? Is Vidya Balan not entitled to speak about things because she did Dirty Picture? The people who shame us for the characters we play are the same people who make it okay for a Bhupendra Chaubey to speak to Sunny Leone the way he did. Shame on you. Fortunately, you can’t stop us.
I fully understand that there are varying intensities of inappropriate workplace behaviour and while this is probably at the bottom of the pyramid for some, it still ought to be addressed because, why not? It’s perfectly okay to have a conversation about it.
There’s a reason banter and behaviour like this makes us uncomfortable and finds a place in section 354 of the IPC as a legal offence, as well as Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act. Yes, I didn’t know either, but now I do. The spectrum of Sexual harassment is extremely wide and every citizen ought to recognise and respect it. So the next time you think it’s not a big deal, remember that the law does.
The above letter has been originally published on Quint. You can read it here.