Putting the #MeToo in MAMI
As the #MeTooIndia wave broke a few weeks before the festival, they found themselves scrambling to respond
I don't envy the organisers of MAMI, Mumbai's most fashionable film festival, this year. As the #MeTooIndia wave broke a few weeks before the festival, they found themselves scrambling to respond. Anurag Kashyap stepped down from their board. They dropped films produced or co-produced by Kashyap, All India Bakchod, Chintan Ruparel and Rajat Kapoor from their line-up.
In the film-making community, this led to some sympathy for the teams of these films — after all, what had they done to be punished in this way? This seems a fair enough question. But, collateral damage was a phrase bandied about and everyone felt what, after all, was the choice?
Then, Shazia Iqbal, the director of a short film called Bebaak, produced by Kashyap, wrote, 'An open letter to MAMI board members questioning their integrity'. The letter is impassioned and angry and, though a little too keen to proclaim Kashyap's blamelessness, makes some important points. Now that these films have been stigmatised, what are their chances of going to other festivals? Since Iqbal's film has a feminist theme, wasn't it ironic that the festival was dropping it as a support to #MeToo? What about other films by directors such as Lars von Trier, accused by Björk, or Paul Schrader, associated with Harvey Weinstein?
Most interesting of all, if films were to be disqualified because of a past association, then shouldn't the entire board be sacked because of its past association with Kashyap? Had other members of the board been investigated on their associations and complicity with harassers?
That last question is an important one, because sexual harassment is Bollywood's most open secret. It raises the limits of a punitive approach. Demanding or meting out punishment, in a way, obscures having to think of one's own place in a system. For instance, the statement by a dazzling line-up of women film-makers that they would not be working with 'proven' harassers seemed utterly banal and like nothing approaching a systemic question. Way to set the bar low. Issues such as #MeToo do bring up questions about the entire culture and what needs to change in it. In Hollywood, at the very least, this led to a quick connection with sexism and acknowledging the fact that more women needed to be producers and directors.
While Bollywood types gushed about #MeToo at Cannes, Instagramming selfies alongside demonstrations, they don't seem to have brought these questions home. In fact, for the last few months, women in the Kerala film industry have been fighting a difficult battle with AMMA (Association of Malayalam Movie Artists) over their reinstatement of actor Dileep, accused of getting an actress abducted and sexually assaulted. Where is the serious linkage with
this movement from Bollywood quarters?
India is a feudal country and Bollywood no less so. These issues of gender are tied to issues of class and cultural gatekeeping. We have very few democratic methods of finding and drawing in talent that is not 'connected' for instance. Family connections still play an important role. How is one to address #MeToo in Bollywood without seriously thinking about all these things?
In fact, the answers are not easy at all. But, sadly, the MAMI board missed an opportunity to make a more considered, complex statement about how they would be reflecting on questions at the heart of #MeToo.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning, Mumbai-based film-maker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com
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