Remember how in 2018 actress Tanushree Dutta came out in the open and slammed actor Nana Patekar for having allegedly harassed her while the two were shooting together for their 2009 film ‘Horn Ok Pleasss’? Well, reading the news that morning in a popular daily, no one thought that it would become such a massive thing in the days to come. The news went viral all over, and Dutta, who was an almost forgotten actress by then, was hounded by reporters asking for the inside story, and quotes on what had actually happened. She became the talk of the town overnight. In the subsequent interviews, she went on to bash other celebrities like Ganesh Acharya and Vivek Agnihotri as well.
Taking the cue from her, many other women also started opening up about having faced similar harassment or molestation from many celebrities. It was the beginning of the #metoo movement in India. The #metoo movement wasn’t just something that happened in India. It was a global movement, and it is considered one of the highlights of the last decade.
The International Women’s Week (Mar 8-Mar 13) has just gotten over and we are in the middle of Universal Women’s Week (Mar 13-Mar 19). Once again, the topic of women's safety has come to the fore. The topic wouldn’t be complete without discussing the safety of actresses on film sets, even now. The #metoo movement had brought forth numerous such instances where the safety of the women on film sets came under question.
Recently as well, actress Bhavna Menon spoke up finally in an interview to a private YouTube channel, 'The Mojo Story', about her #metoo incident. The actress said, "My dignity has been shredded to a million pieces." The actress said she felt lonely despite the strong support extended to her by her family and friends. For those who don't know, the actress was kidnapped in 2017 while returning home from a shooting location and was subjected to sexual assault by a gang of men. The incident went into a major controversy after the main accused, Pulsar Sunil, revealed that allegedly popular Malayalam actor Dileep was behind the assault. Dileep was arrested and is reportedly now out on bail.
For the unversed, the #MeToo movement began as a social movement against sexual abuse and sexual harassment where people publicised allegations of sex crimes on social media. While the term was first used in 2006 by sexual assault survivor and activist Tarana Burke, the movement gained worldwide acclaim in 2017 with the exposing of numerous sexual-abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Many high profile actresses came forward and voiced their opinions on the #metoo movement, which caught on like wildfire.
In India, many other celebs were also called out. Besides Patekar, filmmaker Sajid Khan, filmmaker Vikas Bahl, singer Kailash Kher, actor Alok Nath, and many others were alleged by different women in relation to varied such #metoo incidents.
After almost four years of those #metoo call outs, there has hardly been a lot of people getting punished or going behind the bars. Things seem to have gone back to normal from the outside. Most of these people who had been accused have either been cleared up by some or the other authority or their cases have just been forgotten by the people concerned. They've all gone back to working on their next projects and baring aside one or two, all the others are still working as normally as they were working before their names were called out in the #metoo movement.
But has there been any changes at all in the way things happen on film sets now?
Speaking about whether she has seen any changes on film sets, actress Preeti Jhangiani says, “Yes I definitely do see changes in the work environment post me too. The number one change is that women are now more aware of their rights. Every office corporate or otherwise now has mandatory CCTV cameras and a policy and committee in place where women can approach in case of any grievances. Also, the work culture, in general, is now more inclusive of women and they do feel more free to air their unique ideas and solutions. It is a welcome and necessary change. For too long now, in every part of the world women have been disrespected and not respected either physically or emotionally.”
Actress Sai Tamhankar had slammed Alok Nath when he was accused by a woman in the #metoo allegations. Tamhankar had then tweeted, “You will never rest in peace, I hope you rot in hell #AlokNath #TimesUp #MeToo (sic).” In the years after that, has she seen any changes? “I think things have changed after that. Even though people have not been punished, but I feel that the purpose of that movement was served. I can see that change in the air. Therefore, I would definitely not say that it was a complete waste. After all, who am I to say that it was a complete waste? What I feel the best about was that we all came together as one and put forth our voices as one for something. Is that not important? It could have been for anything. When we as a society get the sense of unity, that is very important, and keeping that alive is a very difficult task. That is what I feel. You can feel that change in the air. Even though I cannot pinpoint something and tell you, but, of course, I do feel it in the air,” says Tamhankar.
Actress Apeksha Porwal feels fortunate that she hasn’t personally faced any such incidents ever since she has been in the industry. “While I’ve been fortunate to never experience anything untoward, the #metoo movement seems to have made sure that lines are more carefully tread. Just knowing that a movement like this could exist and voices can and will be heard, is reassuring and empowering,” says Porwal.
On the same lines, actress Trupti Khamkar says, "I definitely do see some changes. There was a drastic change when the movement first started, I had many of my male colleagues and friends who personally called and had conversations at length and apologised if they had made me feel uncomfortable in any way unknowingly. The women around me definitely felt more empowered, confident, we did share stories of how we were caught off guard many times and we didn't know what to do at that point in time. I feel now post Covid-19 now that we are resuming work things look a little safer organically, the women are definitely more conscious, aware and now have the courage to speak up for themselves. I just hope and wish that some incorrigible men still remember the lesson they learnt from the #metoo movement that happened not very long ago."
While many have seen positive changes, there are many who are yet to see anything good out of it.
“I feel that though the #MeToo movement has been a very important milestone in our lives, the change that can be seen has been disappointingly low compared to what was expected. Just like any other important event that has made waves in the history of humanity, the fear and practice were only confined in the earlier stage following the uproar. Slowly and gradually, everyone goes back to their old habits even if it means that they must hide it better,” says actress Pia Bajpiee.
Reiterating similar thoughts actress Nikita Rawal says, “No, I don’t see any changes after the #metoo movement. Earlier people used to do it openly, but now they’re doing it very consciously. Looking from the outside, all seems easy, but from the inside, everyone has to face it. This is life. This is work life, you can say that. So, no changes that I’ve seen of.”
Actress Zareen Khan had also spoken up in the middle about a director having asked her to 'rehearse a kissing scene with him'. Speaking recently during the release of her last film, when asked about whether a movement like me too died down without causing much change, she had said, “It’s unfortunate, I would say. Somehow in our country movements come with so much force and everybody is talking about it, and then I don’t know how they die down in no time and people forget about them. Whether it’s the #MeToo movement or the brutal rape case of a girl, everyone is putting out posts and taking out marches around that time. And then something else happens, or maybe there is some award function happening or some big party of somebody, and everything is forgotten and people are more focused on who’s worn what. I don’t understand this thing that why people get so easily distracted from the real issue and how come such important issues die down in our country with no concrete conclusions.”
Khan goes on to add on the topic of no one getting any punishment. “That was my question even back then when the entire #MeToo movement was happening. Everyone was out and everybody was talking about it and every day you were getting to hear more and more about it, but soon after there was Diwali, I guess, and people started having parties. People entirely forgot about the #MeToo movement, and people were just seen at Diwali parties on social media and everyone was talking about who went to whose party, who wore what, and who went with whom. The movement had come out with so much force and so many people came out, showed courage to speak up finally. But what was the outcome? I honestly heard no outcome or anybody getting punished. Yes, a lot of people from the industry did take steps like not wanting to work with those people who were accused. But that was about it. Eventually, in some time, #MeToo movement just died out. Now, every now and then we hear about it, but then it’s treated very lightly and it goes away,” adds Khan.
One has to admit that the numerous cases of #metoo definitely seems to have made women more aware of what their rights are. Also, women are more inclined to call out people now as opposed to how they used to silently just keep getting ill-treated by the men at work. There has also grown a little sense of fear of humiliation among the male workforce. Also, there has been a growth in the number of women working on film sets now. While earlier the actresses used to be the only ladies on the sets, now we do see a lot more female filmmakers, music composers, and other technicians from the fairer sex on sets of a film or show.
Even though there have been some changes for the betterment of the working conditions on film sets since the #metoo movement, there is yet a long way to go before the film shoots become a completely safe haven for women.