About twenty years ago, Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, which she thought was a breakfast meeting, relating to work. Little did she know that she’ll be ordered to his bedroom, where she would find him in a bathrobe asking is she needed a massage and if she would watch him shower.
Former actress Rose McGowan, I her interviews had said that her first encounter with Weinstein was at the Sundance Film festival in January 1997 when a meeting was set up between the two of them at the Stein Eriksen Lodge Deer Valley, in Park City, Utah. She was a little taken aback when the meeting had to take place in his palatial suite and now in the board room or the restaurant. The meeting went fine, she recalls but just as she was leaving, he pushed her to the jacuzzi and began undressing her. In an interview, McGowan described Weinstein as, “a warthog from hell,” adding, “I thought he was terrifying-looking. I thought he was the single most ugly person I’d ever seen in my life.” At that time, McGowan settled for a $100,000 settlement only to come out and take his name about twenty years later, in 2017. McGowan told ABC News that she never regretted signing the settlement. “It’s a non-factor. He didn’t buy my silence, clearly. I didn’t take money for what happened to me. I took money because it was my only way of saying — literally my only way of saying, ‘I did not like this. I did not want this. This was not consensual. Get off me. No. Stand back.’ That was it. This was my only recourse,” she said.
And then since October last year, working women in Hollywood, the media and eventually different walks of life have come ahead and shared their stories. The prolific names that have supported the movement have been Meryl Streep, Dame Judi Dench, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie among others. But this beautiful and powerful moment that these women were enjoying was, very sadly, restricted to the west.
And exactly a year later, in early October, former Bollywood actress, Tanushree Dutta claimed to have been assaulted by Nana Patekar in 2009 while filming Horn ‘Ok’ Pleassss. I will be very honest when I say that like many people, I was one to believe that there is no point of Dutta making any allegations. She had done the same twice earlier and there had been no response in any favour, let alone hers. And so, this time too, I was sure that male dominance will prevail and justice will be denied to Dutta. But the contrary happened.
Overnight, Dutta became the torch bearer, she became the catalyst of a supposed Indian #MeToo movement – a movement that would be India’s counterpart of the original #MeToo movement.
But were, or rather are, the women in cinema ready to wear all black and stand on the red carpet of an event as prestigious as the Golden Globes? Is there going to be the coming together of 90 women, who have and have not been sexually harassed, but do have the courage to stand up against it? Maybe, maybe not yet.
The future of the Indian #MeToo is definitely uncertain, but it’s definitely more certain and possible that I had thought it to be. And by an Indian #MeToo, I don’t mean in every walk of life, but particularly in the Hindi Film Industry. It’s still much more possible in other walks than in the entertainment industry. I am happy with the wave that’s been going on, but I feel we need more, and we need more now. We need leading ladies of Bollywood – Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Alia Bhatt, Vidya Balan, Kareena Kapoor Khan – to come up and if not share their experiences, at least support the movement, urge other women to keep the fire burning. And, that’s important. It’s important for women in power to use their power effectively.
Because these women have the capability to change mindsets, to even bring about change, they should make right use of it.
If Kareena Kapoor Khan’s ‘size zero’ can encourage an entire country to become that, imagine the aftermath of her calling out to young women, urging them to not be afraid and telling them that they’re not alone.
But what these women, most importantly, need is assurance. An assurance that they would not lose their jobs, that they would not be hurt – mentally, physically or emotionally – that their dignity will be upheld. What was possible in the West is not certainly possible here. There are men in the industry, who have been pointed fingers at, who have stepped down or made to step down from their positions of power till there are any clarifications on the same. The Mumbai Film Festival even took down the screening of a particular film produced by AIB because Tanmay Bhatt has been blamed for sexual harassment. But is that the right way to deal with it? Yes, Tanmay Bhatt, until and if found guilty, shouldn’t be allowed to be worked with, that I agree with. But what about the effort that the other people had put in to make the film? What about their efforts?
So what this movement needs is proper assembly, and a dignified way to solve the problem. What we also need it to address what is assault and which stories clarify as #MeToo stories. Is wearing black, or any colour in unison enough? Perhaps it is, just to show support. And most importantly, do men not have stories of assault? Of course they do!
The problem is huge, the solution can’t be simple. But what we need to do, as a society, as individuals who haven’t been at the receiving end is urge – we need to urge both men and women to talk about their stories, and we need to give them a platform to speak out their grievances. So what’s key in this momentum is support, assurance, the realisation of and belief in all these stories and most importantly the hope – the hope that tomorrow is a better day than today. Only then can we keep the fire burning.