Are the women of Bollywood ready to name their Weinsteins?
The Harvey Weinstein expose isn't all that surprising, is it? We are aware of the deep-seated misogyny and sexism prevalent across industries around the world. In Hollywood, it is just more pronounced. Weinstein's case is the latest example highlighting that women are now more woke than ever, sharing their stories of violence, and bringing down their abusers. But, how are Indian-women dealing with it?
Closer home, the last five years have been instrumental in transforming how sexual abuse is perceived and dealt with in India. Things stated changing in 2013, when a junior Tehelka staffer accused its editor-in-chief Tarun Tejpal of sexual assault, exposing the rampant sexual exploitation of women in the media. Creating a national scandal, the revelation destroyed Tejpal's career and his investigative magazine.
The ball that got rolling with Tejpal has gathered momentum since. In 2017 alone, two powerful men, The Viral Fever's CEO Arunabh Kumar, and Dera Sachha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, were accused of rape and sexual abuse by unknown, unnamed women. Under fire for misconduct, Kumar had to resign as TVF's head. Ram Rahim, meanwhile, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Though the name-and-shame wave has swept the world, it has had no effect on Bollywood. Despite an active grapevine alleging casting couch and sexual exploitation, actresses almost never name their abusers. Until Kangana Ranaut did. She is arguably the first leading lady to have publicly accused an industry veteran (Aditya Pancholi) of sexual and mental harassment.
However, India isn't ready to confront Bollywood's open secret, especially if it's a woman telling it. We aren't there. Not just yet. Kangana was slammed for playing various cards (victim, woman, outsider) and using popular heroes to publicize her film. Aditya Pancholi called her mad.
When a superstar like Kangana receives such harsh criticism, it silences other lesser-privileged, not-as-empowered women. However, despite the attack, Kangana has held her ground. Other actresses are speaking up too, not necessarily on sexual violence, but on other issues such as pay-gap and gender-stereotyping. Though there's a long road ahead, but Bollywood is marching towards the day when its Weinsteins will be unmasked.