The panel on the #MeToo movement, and its impact on Bollywood, created a dialogue, and brought forth insights and opinions which are crucial in paving the way forward now that the movement is here to stay.
Shaili Chopra, founder of SheThePeople, moderated the discussion with screenwriter Vinta Nanda, actor and general secretary CINTAA Sushant Singh, creator, anchor and former journalist Janice Sequeira and actor Saloni Chopra.
The four panelists, who are also significant pillars of the movement, in one way or another, engaged in a powerfully honest and thought-provoking conversation about #MeToo and the cause they’re all fighting for.
- The panel, in light of the #MeToo movement, provided suggestions on various measures, one being a proper helpline that can help prevent or deal with sexual harassment and misconduct.
- The discussion highlighted the fact that there still are some perpetrators, who are big names in the industry, but are yet to be exposed because people are too scared of the repercussions if they name them.
- CINTAA GS Sushant urged for the establishment of a separate body comprising powerful voices, for this purpose, which will help take down leading men who are proven perpetrators.
- The speakers, while sharing their own stories or dealing with the current #MeToo wave, concluded that leading female actors need to come together and break their silence for the movement to progress further.
"I became a part of it because I believed it would push the agenda. Also, I kept telling myself that if I remain silent, I would be doing injustice to whatever I stand for," - Vinta Nanda
Shaili Chopra began the discussion stating how the #MeToo movement, in the history of modern India, could emerge as a defining moment. Nanda, who was recently permitted by a sessions court, to talk freely at any platform she wishes to, shared that the #MeToo movement gave her courage and motivated her to open up. “It’s like the whole thought spiralled up to me and I kept telling myself - now or never,” she added.
A number of factors like Tanushree Dutta’s conversation on television, CINTAA General Secretory Sushant's assurances and the media’s conviction, led Vinta in the direction where she finally came out and shared her own #MeToo story.
"I told myself it was time I speak my side of the truth and corroborate Tanushree’s story," - Janice Sequeira
Janice, who corroborated Tanushree’s #MeToo story with a series of tweets, shared that she extended her support because she wanted to do the right thing. “I was watching Tanushree’s interview on TV. I streamed through social media soon after only to realise the rubbish people had been talking about regarding her. That's when I went to sleep telling myself I have to come out and reveal what I know,” she recollected.
"I feel a certain responsibility must come to those associating themselves with such offenders at the workplace," - Saloni Chopra
Saloni feels the movement is here to stay. She shared that she decide to come out when she teared up reading Vinta’s story. It was then that she realised she has a personal responsibility as well. “It was time to practise what I preach. What is the point of speaking about women every day if I don’t do what I stand for,” she said.
"One thing that really bothers me is that there have been no apologies and acknowledgement. Sajid has simply disappeared from the face of Earth," - Saloni Chopra
While apology is something that should have come early, Saloni believes it is acknowledgement that should have been there first. “Look at what has happened. Instead of apologising and acknowledging their wrongdoing, these offenders are suing women to silence them,” she said.
Saloni also specified how there’s nothing before or after when it comes down to these grave incidents. “I’ve been on set. I knew how Sajid was. It’s just difficult to digest that no one knew about him. Also, the statements put out on social media cutting ties with him do not seem very genuine as everyone knew of his actions."
Shaili Chopra asked Sushant how he has been dealing with the #MeToo wave over the past few weeks. He then brought forth an interesting point saying he received several messages from people, across social media, during the past few weeks. He was taken aback by the fact that there were next to zero abusive messages he received while, on another side, these women survivors were being trolled consistently. "You all have been trolled. Why aren’t we? That's the divided line and it's extremely unsettling," he said while talking to fellow speakers.
He is positive about CINTAA heading in the right direction and emphasised that the officials are extremely fearless and just.
"I felt ashamed of where I worked when I got to know about the #MeToo allegations against Sajid and Alok Nath," - Sushant Singh
Sushant shared his reaction and experience, both as an individual and a CINTAA official, post the #MeToo revelations. He expressed how he was deeply disturbed when he heard Tanushree's story and realised the fact that nobody helped her at the time of the incident. "I've had anxiety attacks and anger bursts so many times in the past few weeks. It's so disturbing to find out that these women have been living in this trauma for years and no one helped them," he shared.
Sushant also voiced that he, as a person, can take sides, but as a CINTAA representative, he has to cater to all complaints fairly and systematically.
"When I ran my own production house, people used to say that only pansies and 'naa mard' men can work with me. This was because I had zero tolerance for sexual harassment in my unit," - Vinta Nanda
Vinta recalled an incident from her time as a producer of a show where she made it mandatory that no one should dare try to think and act obnoxiously. She said her team also asked women to come for immediate help in case of such occurrences.
How will the generalised mindset change?
Janice, while acknowledging that CINTAA and other contractual actions are shaping into productive measures, voiced her concern over the exploitation and harassment practices by biggies that are still under wraps, and that people are scared to touch. "The mind games are exhausting. It's a huge concern that there still are so many names yet to be named."
The road ahead?
The talk also sparked notions about how Bollywood can find a way into fairer, more honest spaces. Saloni highlighted another vital fact that there are hardly any women behind the camera. She said there’s a social change needed and it’s time women are shown in a powerful light on-screen. “Where are the women? Most stories are from a man’s perspective, given that men make up a larger percentage of content creators in the industry,” she said.
"Sexual harassment and abuse are reduced to a mere gossip in the industry," - Saloni Chopra
Saloni stressed that one person asking another to sleep with him/her to fetch a role is plain abuse of power. Talking about her ordeal, she said, at the time, she genuinely didn't realise the incident was harassment or abuse. Suggesting a proper system in place, she urged the establishment of effective helplines where people can call, complain and seek help from.
Sushsant, as the spokesperson of CINTAA, suggested effective measures the industry must take. He called for the formation of separate body that can look into such matters and take firm decisions especially when it comes to the top notch stars. "We need to start with awareness, and follow it up with counselling and symposiums. We need a body comprising extremely powerful voices which will instil an authoritative fear among big perpetrators," he suggested.
Vinta indicated that Bollywood's unity is the result of guilt. “They’re together because it’s a perplexed situation. They’re unable to figure out how to deal with situations because a lot of them are also guilty by association or abetment,” she added. However, she is positive that the best thing that’s happened for now is that there are a few powerful voices which are creating an alternative for a new order.
"The bigger guys in the Bollywood industry have not been named. We all know who they are but no one can touch them because they're the ones getting 100 crores in the box office. Bollywood sees them as irreplaceable," - Janice Sequeira
Chopra, examining the role of top notch female actors, discussed why it’s necessary for these women to come out and speak more than they have and keep up the pressure. Janice, taking a reference from Hollywood, explained how the leading female actors in the West came out, not only by sharing their own #MeToo stories but also by standing up for other survivors. Janice believes Bollywood's leading women have to lead by example. "They need to break their silence and come out, either with their own stories or in support of others."
"Today’s generation is extremely powerful," - Vinta Nanda
Answering a question about the current generation tackling harassment in the film industry today, Vinta said we should be thankful that the present generation is driven and powerful in their approach. “We are undermining the new generation of today. These kids today are changing narratives and dealing with causes in a more practical way,” she concluded.