By Subhash K. Jha
Mumbai–Actress Tanushree Dutta, in the eye of a storm after her renewed allegation of facing harassment by veteran Nana Patekar, says while the entertainment industry is strewn with predators, not many women have so far come out and spoken. She hopes more voices join her.
Q. How do you intend to tackle the legal notices sent by Nana Patekar and Vivek Agnihotri?
A. I haven’t really figured out how one tackles a situation where the offender takes a legal recourse. I am the one who is the aggrieved party and they are threatening legal action against me. Isn’t this highly ironical?
Q. And we have senior personalities like Shakti Kapoor and Gajendra Chauhan making fun of your serious allegations?
A. What can I say? This is the mindset that needs to be changed. Men in our entertainment industry and in our society at large think demeaning and insulting women is their birthright. It is such mindsets that lead to serious crimes against women. Today’s eveteaser is tomorrow’s rapist.
Q. What made you speak up about the incident?
A. It wasn’t my intention to consciously draw attention to the incident. I am here in India for a holiday. I was giving interviews when I was asked about the sexual harassment at the workplace. This is when I spoke about the incident in 2008. Mind you, I spoke about a lot of other things. But this is what the media latched on to. And I am happy. Because a debate has been opened up on the whole issue of sexual harassment.
Q. You had spoken extensively about it when it had happened?
A. Yes, I had. So it’s not as if I am speaking about it now. I had tried to get justice for myself when the incident happened from every possible organization. Even the police and the judiciary let me down. When the perpetrator filed a counter-FIR, I was advised to just keep quiet about it. ‘Right now you are making the rounds of police stations. If this is going to go to court, you will be doing the rounds of the courts for ten years.’ They said that. In this country, you need a lot of money and patience to fight a legal battle. The criminals have the resources.
Q. Is this the reason why you left the country?
A. Of course. I was being bullied into dropping my charges. I got no help from any quarter.
Q. And has the situation changed now?
A. Not much. I am hoping for more voices to come forward and speak with me. It is a known fact that the entertainment industry is strewn with predators. For years now, women have accepted the bullying and harassment as ‘normal’. Now with the ‘MeToo’ movement gathering so much support, I hope at least some women in the entertainment industry would come forward and speak out. But so far, I don’t see it happening.
Q. Would you say you are disappointed by the lack of support from powerful voices in the Indian film industry?
A. Look, I can’t complain. At least these voices are bringing attention to the disease. But I don’t see a ‘MeToo’ movement happening in India. We are a long way from that. Just me speaking about my experience cannot start a movement. How long can I go on speaking about it? The attitude of women in our entertainment industry to such harassment is a far cry from the West.
Q. What exactly had happened with Nana Patekar?
A. It was a dance sequence for a film called ‘Horn Ok Pleassss’. He was not a part of it. But he insisted on being on the set. He bullied me. He crossed all limits of decency. He was pulling my hand, pushing me, shouting at me. I had never encountered such boorish behaviour from any of my co-stars before this.
Q. Perhaps such behaviour specially from Nana Patekar is considered normal? Dimple Kapadia had apparently called him ‘obnoxious’?
A. Yes, but what happened after that? Just a random comment here or there, or powerful voices speaking in ambiguous tones and in parables, isn’t going to help. Men who are predators need to be named and shamed. There are other incidents involving Nana Patekar. He had threatened a man with a gun once. But like me, the man was silenced.
Q. Aren’t you afraid that Nana Patekar has powerful friends?
A. He has no powerful friends. It is just a perception created by his friends. I have really powerful voices like Maneka Gandhi supporting me. Can you imagine the perpetrators have sent me legal notices. Do you see the irony of it?
Q. Aren’t you afraid you may end up fighting a long legal battle?
A. Bullying is not going to scare me. Criminals are often seen to take the initiative in sending out legal notices. They have the resources and the knowledge of how to use the law to their own advantage. Unless the laws regarding sexual harassment change, women in our country will continue to be intimidated and bullied.
Q. How far are you going to go in this fight against predatory bullying?
A. I didn’t plan this. I never planned anything in my life. I firmly believe ‘Man proposes God Disposes’. From being a model to a beauty queen to an actress — it all happened to me without my intervention. Doors opened for me and I walked through them. It hasn’t always been a pleasant walk through the door. I am here in India with an open ticket. I am waiting to see where this goes. I am hoping more voices will join me. Otherwise this will come to nothing.
Q. Would you be disappointed if more voices don’t join you?
A. I’ve been on a spiritual quest for ten years. I’ve experienced all religions, embraced them all to finally embrace no religion at all. I strive to find a meaning to life. Who knows where I will go from here?