Friends in high places

Aug 05, 2018, 06:05 IST | Paromita Vohra

People keep asking when will India have its #MeToo moment. India has had #MeToo moments many times. What it has not had is its Weinstein moment

Friends in high places
Illustration/Ravindra Jadhav

Paromitra VohraIt is Friendship Day. So let's discuss "friendship", yaniki those so-called friendships which are about power, not love.

On June 2 this year, when Brajesh Thakur, the proprietor who ran the shelter home in Muzaffarpur where 34 minor girls were drugged, tortured and raped was arrested, the police, reportedly, got calls from no less than six past and present Union ministers. A man with friends — in high places. What is criminality, inhumanity and moral compass in the face of dosti, yaniki long standing mutual maintenance, hai na?

As some filmi folks in Kerala have been demonstrating. Last February, a Malayalam film actress was abducted and molested for two hours in a car. The molestation was video taped assuming that would silence her. But she reported the incident. Police investigation revealed that Malayalam movie superstar, Dileep was behind it. He was arrested and also removed from the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA). The incident has led to a great churn in the Malayalam film industry and the formation of the WCC — Women in Cinema Collective — reflecting also the fact that the Malayalam industry has a sizeable number of women directors responsible for some big recent hits.
Dileep has been charged and is currently out on bail. A few weeks ago, soon after actor Mohanlal took over as new president of AMMA, Dileep was reinstated.

Apparently it was a 'unanimous decision' of the AMMA body. Except it wasn't. Because various women — including Revathy, Parvathy and Padmapriya — objected and then resigned in protest. But do women, or what they think and experience count? AMMA members have been recorded as saying these women are 'habitual troublemakers' and have brought shame on AMMA. Dileep has brought no shame on AMMA by being charged with sexual violence but women who have spoken against it have.

A major Malayalam paper reported that AMMA was unlikely to give in to 'the tantrums' of WCC members. Yaniki yeh patriarchal privilege, mera matlab hai feudal cronyism, sorry I meant dosti, hum nahin todenge.

People keep asking when will India have its #MeToo moment. India has had #MeToo moments many times. What it has not had is its Weinstein moment — where powerful media houses backed serious investigation against a powerful man and powerful men were punished for their sexism and sexual violence in the workplace.

The open secrets of sexual harassment and misogyny across movie industries are rarely seriously investigated. There have been complaints from women in film schools and in other film industries. We hear some outrage and moralising but see no systemic shifts.

This story should be a national scandal, and a rallying moment for women professionals across media industries, shouldn't it? But we haven't seen too many Bollywood folks, even those who are vocal about sexual violence elsewhere, speaking up in this context. A letter of protest started by feminists and independent filmmakers saw a tiny percentage of Bollywood women signing. Who can blame them? They work in a film 'fraternity' (a word meaning, for boys), 'one big family', yaniki, an industry, which follows no industry practices when it comes to sexual harassment (among other things).

If you speak up, you risk being seen as unemployable 'troublemakers'. Until work spaces stop being fraternities, change will mean small change. It is time to raise the stakes and make other comradeships.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com

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