The #metoo movement, that started in Hollywood in 2017, finally reached Bollywood when Tanushree Dutta accused Nana Patekar of harassment last year. Several other allegations poured out, on social media, against comedians, journalists and other media professionals soon after. While many applauded the women who came out with their stories, several people pointed out how the silence against the big guns of Bollywood was deafening.
Men like Alok Nath, Vikas Bahl, Sajid Khan, Shubhash Ghai, Gaurang Doshi, Vivek Agnihotri, Kailash Kher, Rajat Kapoor, among others, were named once the #metoo movement arrived in Bollywood. A common thread among these men, apart from the fact that all of them belong to Bollywood? Many of them are either inactive in Bollywood right now or aren’t considered powerful enough to cause serious damage to anyone’s careers. All of this again raises the question if Bollywood stars supported the women who spoke up only because these men weren’t significant enough to put a dent on their own careergraphs.
In early January this year, Huffpost India revealed that Rajkumar Hirani has been accused by one of his former employees, someone who worked with him on Sanju, of sexual misconduct. Everyone looking at Bollywood, knew that this was going to be their real litmus test. Bollywood has always functioned as this tight-knit feudalistic family that works on the principle of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” And, Hirani is a big name. Going against him would mean ruffling feathers.
So, when the accusations came out, the question was if anyone from Bollywood would be willing to be unbiased if not outrightly condemn Hirani, one of their own? Another question was if he would be shadowbanned for allegedly being a harasser and for how long.
Unlike some of the other men who were accused, not only does Hirani have more power, but he has had an image of being a genuinely “nice guy” over the years.
The woman who accused Hirani had detailed her allegations in an email to Vidhu Vinod Chopra as well as Shelly Chopra, respectively, the producer and director of Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, which Hirani also co-produced. His credit was promptly removed from the film, awaiting a fair investigation.
Many of the actors who had worked with Hirani took to social media to wax eloquent about what a wonderful human being he is, completely forgetting to mention, even once, how a character certificate is never a guarantee that someone is incapable of sexual harassment. While Dia Mirza and Arshad Warsi spoke about how they were shocked about the whole thing, Sharman Joshi went so far ahead to create a hashtag in support of Hirani:
Sonam Kapoor actually went a step ahead when she was quizzed about the incident at a promotional event for Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga,
“In the #MeToo movement, I always believe a woman. But in this case, we need to reserve our judgment. Two things here – one the film is as important as the movement and second, I have known Hirani for many years and I respect him as a filmmaker and a man. I will talk about it at length when the movie is released. But what if it’s (allegations) aren’t true, the movement will get derailed,” she said.
Rajkummar Rao, however, gave a more sensible response, “It was absolutely shocking when I read the article. The Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga team took the decision to revoke his credit from the film and I fully respect and stand by that decision. Whenever such an allegation comes out, there has to be an investigation where both parties put their points across. It’s only then we can conclusively pass an informed judgement. Only after that we will know specifically what transpired. This is the least that can be done. But, of course, I feel very bad for the woman. Once an inquiry is conducted, we will be in a better place to form an informed opinion.”
But, Bollywood, by and large – even the self-proclaimed feminists and women’s rights champions – has stayed mum on the issue. Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Hirani’s longtime collaborator, recently announced that, in all probability, a third edition of Munna Bhai is going to hit the floors later this year. But, when asked if Hirani, who directed the previous two installments would be directing this one, Chopra refused to make a comment on that.
If we consider that no one apart from the people who were involved, know the veracity of the claim, then it might make sense for others to not comment on any of it. But, by that same logic, one can also question why Bollywood was so vocal about condemning the other accused men earlier. Is it simply because none of them were star filmmakers like Hirani who were at the other end of the #metoo stick? Is it because it’s easier to believe that someone with a sketchier reputation is more capable of committing such a crime? Or is it simply easier to support women when they aren’t accusing powerful men?
(Disclaimer: Any views or opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of InUth.)