As accusations of sexual harassment pile up, Bollywood is busy doing damage control by halting projects of those who have been named. After Hrithik Roshan and Aamir Khan, actor Akshay Kumar has also distanced himself from a project being helmed by a director against whom #MeToo allegations have surfaced. In a statement, Kumar has said that he has requested the producers of Housefull 4 to cancel the shoot until further investigation. Subsequently, Sajid Khan has stepped down as the director of the film.
— Akshay Kumar (@akshaykumar) October 12, 2018
But is it enough to merely halt ongoing projects? Also, the well-crafted notices from stars refusing to be part of projects associated with men accused of sexual harassment are full of ifs and buts. They are laden with words like “proven offences”, “full investigation” and so on. This makes their statements sound more like attempts to dodge a bullet than taking a firm stand. Is Bollywood taking the Indian #MeToo seriously at all? Or is it playing a wait-and-watch game, hoping that the steam will blow over?
And where does this leave the brave women who have risked everything to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against powerful men?
Bollywood needs to think of a progressive way forward
Blocking works of accused men is indeed a significant move to show solidarity. But Bollywood folks cannot stop at that. Once the steam blows over can we trust them to stand by their word? Especially with crores of rupees already down the drain on projects like Super 30 and Housefull 4? Once all the #MeToo buzz slows down, all this disapproval may evaporate into thin air and these men may spring back in action in no time.
- After Hrithik Roshan and Aamir Khan, actor Akshay Kumar has also distanced himself from a project being helmed by a director accused of sexual harassment.
- While blocking works of accused men is indeed a significant move to show solidarity, Bollywood cannot just stop at that.
- It is about time that Bollywood realises that it is not a family run business.
- Bollywood genuinely needs to contemplate long-term changes to make the industry a safer place for women.
So if a certain section of Bollywood genuinely wants things to change in the industry, then it needs to make long-term commitments to bring about changes in the system. They should see how Hollywood is navigating itself in the post #MeToo world. The movement kickstarted in October last year, and by January 2018, Hollywood has been already in reform mode. Hundreds of actors, directors, producer and writers launched the Times Up initiative, to fight sexual harassment in the industry. Plus, #MeToo movement became a trigger not just to counter sexual harassment but to call out gender inequality and commonplace sexism in the industry too.
Is everything perfect in Hollywood today though? No. But their commitment to go beyond stalling and ducking the problem needs to be admired.
Which is what Bollywood needs to do too now. Implement harsher guidelines to counter sexual harassment. Empower women in the industry. Not just to be able to speak up, but also to be able to challenge misconduct legally. We are yet to hear strong cries of reform from female actors in Bollywood. We are yet to hear words like inclusion riders, gender equality and survivor protection, etc, from anyone in the industry and that is bothersome.
The only actor to have shown any genuine inclination to take a stand against sexual harassment in the industry as of yet is Emraan Hashmi. The actor has told Mumbai Mirror that he has decided to add a sexual harassment clause to his contracts from now on, along with other clauses relating to confidentiality and termination. What Bollywood can also do is to start blacklisting serial offenders. With changing times, it needs to adapt and upgrade, because numerous fans and viewers can really be unforgiving in cases like these.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.
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