When sexual assault allegations against Rajkumar Hirani came to light, we expected the film fraternity to extend support to the survivor, but the Indian film industry seems to be treading carefully, having resorted to a measured silence. Seems like the industry is yet to come to terms that one of its biggest names has been accused of sexual misconduct. The trepidation is palpable on Twitter, as no A-list actors or filmmakers have come out in support of the survivor as of yet. This silence is disheartening, showing that Bollywood still isn’t ready to deal with a #MeToo crackdown on its highest tier of power.
- Bollywood is yet to come to terms that one of its biggest names has been accused of sexual misconduct.
- This is #MeToo movement’s biggest strike, and the first one on the A-list echelon of the film industry, which was yet untouched.
- However, the film industry is playing a wait and watch game, which makes us doubt its intent.
Many were left shocked yesterday afternoon, when Huffington Post broke a story, in which a woman who had worked with Hirani on his last film Sanju, accused him of allegedly assaulting her.
The report claims, Hirani sexually abused her on more than one occasion over a six-month-long period between March and September 2018. She added that despite feeling intimidated by Hirani, she took great pains to conceal his actions towards her and maintain a facade of normalcy as her father was suffering from a terminal illness, and she desperately needed to hold on to her job. “I was worried that if I left midway, it would be impossible to find another job in this industry if he were to speak badly about my work.”
Hirani is one of the biggest filmmakers in Bollywood right now. While he may have directed only five films in total, all of them went on to become super hits. Both in the masses and classes revere him. Which is why every superstar in this country dreams of working with him. As far as #MeToo India is concerned, this is the movement’s first strike at the A-list echelon of the film industry, which was yet untouched. May be one of the reasons why we haven’t heard big names from the industry openly condemn Hirani despite a full day having passed after the allegations came to light.
Even people’s reaction on social media exposes our hypocrisy, let alone that of the film industry, when it comes to dealing with sexual harassment.
Many people are refusing to believe these allegations because, Hirani makes “such feel-good films” or because he comes across as “such a good-hearted” fellow. Is that the parameter to hold someone accountable? Was it easier to believe that Sajid Khan could be a perpetrator because he made Housefull? But then why not Hirani, who reduced the word rape to a joke in his film 3 Idiots?
As for Bollywood, my problem is with the wait and watch game that it is playing. It is neither standing up for Hirani nor against it. Which makes them come across as total opportunists. If they speak against Hirani, they will sabotage any chances of working with him or those close to him, in the future. If they speak in support of him, they will lose the respect of cinema goers. The consequences could be as bad as a boycott or poor turnout at the box office. Hence, they are going for the middle ground.
Hirani is a big name in the industry. But then if we let his stature affect our reaction to allegations made against him, then we are missing the whole point.
Perhaps the industry is afraid that if we manage to pull out this one thread, a lot of skeletons protected by the power and the code of silence in Bollywood will tumble out. The industry needs to understand that we can see through this trickery of theirs. They simply cannot show selective support to #MeToo and pretend to care about the agenda of sexual harassment. Unless Bollywood keeps the profit and loss statements aside, unless it begins to look beyond the figures and box office numbers, it won’t find a solution for sexual harassment. This is the big test. It has to show us that it intends to change the system.
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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.