“Dogs are known to chase their tails
Romantics dwell on the love that fails
As dogs catch up with the thing they chase
Narcissus falls in love with his face.”
From Bulge In the Core Singsongs by Bachchoo
Harvey Weinstein is now in the courts accused of numerous acts of sexual criminality. He is, as civilised law dictates, innocent until proved guilty of rape, serious sexual molestation and misconduct. Harvey is seen around the world on television walking, accompanied by American police officers as they conduct him to his hearings in court. His lawyer has said Mr Weinstein would vigorously contest the charges and disprove the evidence his women accusers present in court. The jury will have to decide on the balance of conviction from conflicting accounts. Many of these alleged incidents occurred years ago and have only recently been subjected to the glare of lights, camera and action. It’s Harvey’s word against that of his alleged victims. In the other as yet unresolved case of alleged rape, the fugitive Julian Assange, still escaping deportation from the UK by having sought refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy, maintained that he is not guilty of the rape with which he was charged in Sweden. His plea was that sexual bad behaviour does not amount to the crime of rape.
I expect Harvey will plead something similar and the jury will have to decide in each of the hundred cases — if of course they all come to court — the definition and boundaries of “consent” or “consensuality”. The Harvey Weinstein accusations and trial, the fall of the mogul of the film industry, is a defining moment, as significant or perhaps of greater significance than the impeachment and resignation of President Richard Nixon. He resigned the highest office of state for having lied and breached the American Constitution. The Weinstein phenomenon is a turning point in power relations of the genders within all institutions.
In the Weinstein milieu of the US film industry, this power relationship is underpinned not simply by the prospect of a job, but by glamour, stardom, the promise of a future on red carpets, in the public eye — and all for learning lines and spending half your life pretending to be someone else. The Weinstein effect has caused tremors throughout the institutional world of the US with the outburst of #MeToo. The accusations stretch over time and beyond the boundaries of film, TV and entertainment. Already stars such as Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby and Kevin Spacey have been accused and pilloried for similar offences and the films and shows in which they appear have been proscribed, censored and banned. Will that happen to all the films that Harvey Weinstein produced?
The question that occurs (in the wake of the old saying “Hey Bhagwan, what about Hindustan?) is why hasn’t Bollywood, which imitates and even exaggerates everything that happens in Hollywood, been subject to the same storm? As far as I can see from Google and the #MeToo bugle, very few Indian female stars have stepped forward and declared that they too were #MeToos. Yes, there is Mona Matthews, belly dancer and actress who says she’s been propositioned. Then there is Daisy Irani, who tells Khalid Mohamed she was raped as a child actress by the man assigned to be her guardian. She goes on to say that a director, now long dead, made advances to her in her teens. No court cases will ensue.
My friend Simi Garewal says if an actress complains she will never work again in the industry, as men are all powerful within it. I read a report of Simi interviewing Rani Mukerji and asking her about an affair with a famous director. Rani, the report said, retorted by telling Simi she could reveal what she’d heard of Simi’s dalliance or affair in the Indian film world. All this hardly adds up to the upheaval in the US where hundreds of women are making allegations of rape and indecent assault against famous and powerful men in the screen industries. In all my short and happy association with the Indian film industry, I have heard of famous directors demanding sexual favours in exchange for roles in their films. There are hundreds of casting couch stories which are prevalent on the dark web of rumour but never emerge as actionable accusations from female actors.
A friend of mine has often told me about insistent propositions from prospective employers in the trade and has privately implicated a few well-known directors in incidents of suggested sexual coercion with other actresses — her close friends. I could name the alleged perpetrators, but am not sure that any of their victims would come forward to support me in court when I am sued for libel and jailed. An appropriate oxymoron for this non-occurrence in Bollywood would be a tsunami of silence. Does the power play on the Bollywood casting couch discretely stop at suggestions, hints and forbearance? Harvey’s alleged victims are not inhibited from alleging rape and forced attentions.
Bill Cosby’s victims allege that he drugged them and raped them when they were not conscious. The #MeToo movement has undoubtedly attracted some who reluctantly agreed to consensual sex to further their careers. The American courts will have to decide on the guilt of those who obtained such consent through the duress inherent in the institutional power-relationship. Will the casting couch itself be criminalised? The claim of the #MeToo movement is that the dissolution of the inhibition to speak out will abolish or ameliorate this power relationship.
I have no doubt that would-be Indian predators in the industries where the casting couch exists — and this is true of corporate enterprises which have nothing to do with film or TV — will have taken note of the American phenomenon. Will it inhibit them? Or will they rely on the fact that in the case of rape and inappropriate sexual behaviour, Indian mores are biased against the victim? And hence the deafening silence?...