Why Bollywood's Reaction To #MeToo Allegations Against Rajkumar Hirani Is A Litmus Test

Bollywood might not fully know this yet, but a lot is riding on this delicate case involving Rajkumar Hirani, and its consequences.

After some serious allegations were levelled against director Rajkumar Hirani via a lengthy email, the #MeToo movement in Bollywood has gained a new lease of life. According to HuffPost India, the complainant worked on Hirani’s 2018 film, Sanju, and the alleged incidents are claimed to have taken place during the post-production of the film. This is a crucial juncture for the #MeToo movement to take full effect in India, that has (more or less) been dealt easy names like Alok Nath, Nana Patekar or even Sajid Khan till now. Two replaceable past-their-prime actors and an out-of-favour director. Rajkumar Hirani is the first A-list name to have come up in these channels.

How Bollywood reacts to these allegations will be telling. There has been plenty of posturing by the likes of Karan Johar, Aamir Khan and several other leading men and women, who have deemed #MeToo “necessary”. But when someone of the repute of Rajkumar Hirani is entwined into such allegations, which way will the fraternity lean?

Hirani has categorically denied the allegations through his lawyers, calling them ‘false, mischievous, scandalous, motivated and defamatory’. The matter is still being investigated by the ICC set up by Vidhi Vinod Chopra Films and Hirani’s name has been dropped from the promotions of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga. His next film, Munnabhai 3, has also been put on the back-burner as the committee tries to find truth in the claims of the complainant. Reports suggest that the studio involved (Fox Star) is ready to pull the plug on the film, if the allegations turn out to be true.

Bollywood, like it always does, has remained tight-lipped about the whole episode. But to a certain degree, they might have good reason for it this time. It’s a murky case, after all. And while the complainant has written up a first-person account in an email that has also been addressed to Hirani’s colleagues – Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Abhijat Joshi and Anupama Chopra – the matter still remains a he said/she said. According to the investigation carried out by HuffPost India, Hirani made his entire text and email history available on two occasions. Nothing in them, indicate any wrongdoing on Hirani’s part whatsoever.

And yet, the allegations appear to have taken place behind closed doors, with no witnesses. It’s nearly impossible to prove ‘inappropriate behaviour’ several months after it has allegedly taken place. For now, the likes of Anupama Chopra and Abhijat Joshi are making the right noise by stating that they support the alleged victim’s right to level these allegations against the director, and are waiting for a verdict from the ICC.

It will be interesting to see Bollywood’s reaction if the committee comes out in favour of the complainant – will they professionally isolate Hirani? Or will they continue working with him? After all Rajkumar Hirani is responsible for Hindi films breaking the 200-crore and 300-crore barriers in Bollywood, with 3 Idiots & PK respectively. Aamir Khan had earlier excused himself out of a film with Subhash Kapoor, after allegations of sexual misconduct were levelled against him. If the charges against Hirani are proven, and he offers his next film to Aamir Khan, will the actor refuse it?

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Also, what happens if the allegations turn out to be false? #BelieveWomen will suffer a massive setback in Bollywood. Hirani’s case will become a citation for many A-listers, called out for inappropriate behaviour in the future.

Rajkumar Hirani’s career may get past these allegations or not. But the man, who tickled and preached his way through some of Bollywood’s most entertaining ‘moral lessons’ in films, certainly has a cloud hanging over his head. More so, after the hagiographic Sanju – that affected Hirani’s reputation amongst many film critics. If Hirani is found to be guilty, how Bollywood deals with the director will set the precedent for how it deals with other A-listers… whose inappropriate behaviour is still being discussed in whispers. Bollywood might not fully know this yet, but a lot is riding on this delicate case and its consequences.