Women power for powerful men?

Deccan Chronicle.  | Priyanka Chandani

Entertainment, Bollywood

In the light of #MeToo accusations against Anurag Kashyap, it is surprising to see actresses and his ex-wives defending the accused

Anurag Kashyap

Bollywood is clearly unpredictable at times. Despite some very modern and empowering ideas coming from films, it appears to be quite another story when it comes to the personal lives of the individuals making these films.

For instance, filmmaker Anurag Kashyap’s films have always been empowering of women and mostly refuting the male chauvinism in Indian society. However, the filmmaker has recently attracted the spotlight after actress Payal Ghosh made sexual harassment accusations against him.

Payal has called herself a victim of the filmmaker’s inappropriate behaviour. And quite unsurprisingly, Payal hasn’t got enough support from the entertainment industry. Instead, several A-list actresses and directors have come in support of the filmmaker.

In quite the contradiction of all the impassioned ‘down with patriarchy’ speeches during Rhea Chakraborty’s arrest, many actresses have come out in support of the accused, ironically refuting claims made by the victim even before the investigations have concluded.

The entire #MeToo campaign emphasised upon how powerful people in the industry use their position to carry out and cover up their sexual misconduct(s). The victim is not only threatened by the power houses, but also slut-shamed by many, including film folks, on the social-media circuit. Suddenly, it begins to look as if the survivor is the victim of a circus that has come to protect the famous male celeb.

However, media and television personality, Pritish Nandy doesn’t consider it a gender or power issue. “The facts are entirely unknown and as long as investigation happens (hopefully the right way and not like the Rhea–Sushant case), people will support the truth. I don’t think it is a gender issue,” says Nandy.

“People are waiting to know a little bit more. The girl who has made the charges is not known, so there will be some hesitation to accept those charges. In fact, the charges are of sexual misbehaviour and not of rape and if it is proved, people will support it.”

Let the investigation decide

Ever since the allegations have been levelled against the filmmaker, actresses such as Taapsee Pannu, Surveen Chawla and Tisca Chopra, director Hansal Mehta and Anurag’s former wives Aarti Bajaj and Kalki Koechlin have not only voiced their support for the filmmaker, but also negated the girl’s version completely.

While Aarti Bajaj called Ghosh’s act as the cheapest stunt, Kalki posted an emotional letter on her social media page in complete support of the filmmaker, even stating how she never felt unsafe with him even when they were not in a relationship.

Similarly, Taapsee advocated for the filmmaker, calling him the “biggest feminist” she’s known while Surveen, who worked with him in the Netflix series Sacred Games, said the allegation against him reeked of opportunism.

Payal, who filed an official complaint against the filmmaker on Saturday, is surprised that far from setting up a mechanism to investigate the matter, the fraternity has only been sharing chauvinistic responses about it.

Wives stand by their man

When it comes to sexual allegations against any man in the industry, surprisingly, their wives seem to always come forward to rescue their men. Just as Aarti and Kalki came in support of Anurag, in the past, actor Shiney Ahuja and Aditya Pancholi’s wives too have defended their husbands through their sexual misconduct charges, while even belittling the accusations and accusers.

Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, author and senior columnist on gender and sexuality, points to the trend in India for women to stand by their man. “Many couples may have a marriage of convenience, maintaining that façade at home and going on with their life. None of those women will leave their husband because they have huge money coming in from their husbands. Moreover, supporting the husband is a statuesque. Bollywood has double standards. It’s like polarising the debate or trying to derail the movement,” Sreemoyee asserts.

Sreemoyee thinks that in Bollywood, whenever a powerful man is accused of such charges, it is always as if women come out in support of him. “Why do such successful men need this validation from women?” she asks. “Where are the men who’ve worked with him? Where are the Nawazuddin Siddiquis, Vikramaditya Motwanes and Manoj Bajpayees who’re all apparently very socially conscious but now silent when it’s about a woman and her respect?”

Making prey of small-timers

The culture of silence and power has always seemed to win in such situations. Instances in the past also stand tall to manifest the duplicity of Bollywood.

Vikas Bahl, who directed Queen, was accused of sexual harassment by a former employee of Phantom Films, the production house he established with Anurag Kashyap, director Vikramaditya Motwane, producer Madhu Mantena. But Vikas got a clean chit! Then, director Sajid Khan was accused of sexual harassment by three women, yet nothing has happened there either.

Noticeably, in most sexual harassment cases in Bollywood, allegations against well-known directors are usually made by aspiring actresses or models. One would wonder why predatory filmmakers misbehave with only small-timers and not the successful actresses/stars. Would everyone in the industry still support a filmmaker who’s accused by a successful actress?

However, Nandy shares another perspective on the matter, stating that none of it has to do with small-timers or big names and that it is instead about the whole gender revolution that’s happening now.

“If you look at US President Donald Trump’s case, all the women accusing him were less-known. Women today have the courage to talk about it, which wasn’t the case ten years back. It is the gender revolution that has brought women this courage. The only point to remember is that you need evidence or a behavioural response from the alleger and the alleged, so that you can take the stand,” he adds.