Tanushree Dutta on #MeToo: I could afford to take this burden on myself and I am glad I did

Updated: Jan 01, 2019, 13:22 IST | Gitanjali Chandrasekharan

Having decided to "give it back to them" Tanushree Dutta, who turned 34 this year, started speaking to online portals on the subject and soon was getting invited to events across the city

Tanushree Dutta on #MeToo: I could afford to take this burden on myself and I am glad I did
Pic/Rane Ashish

Tanushree Dutta
New Jersey
Triggered #MeToo in India after she spoke up about the harassment she faced in 2008 on the sets of Horn Ok Pleassss at the hands of veteran actor Nana Patekar
When Tanushree Dutta, came to India a few months ago, the conversation she triggered was about her weight. It invited a fair bit of trolling, but the former Miss India, argues, "People are used to seeing me in old movies. Life goes on. One should not expect a public figure to look the same after 10 years."

Having decided to "give it back to them" Dutta, who turned 34 this year, started speaking to online portals on the subject and soon was getting invited to events across the city. Her presence would have gone unnoticed had it not been for a generic question that was thrown at her - Dutta says, it wasn't just her, other celebrities at an awards event were asked the same question - Why had the #MeToo movement not taken off in India?

"Answering instinctively, I said how can it happen when nothing came of my testimony of harassment 10 years ago. Nothing came of my complaint, it was brushed aside as a scandal. How can the #MeToo movement take off when we don't have a conducive environment?" Dutta was referring to 2008 when, on the sets of Horn Ok Pleassss, she had alleged harassment by co-star Nana Patekar, choreographer Ganesh Acharya, director Rakesh Sarang and producer Samee Siddiqui. On set, when she walked out of the choreography sequence mid-way because of increasing discomfort with Patekar's proximity, Dutta was attacked by a mob of men and women from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, who was then supporting Patekar.

Like in 2008, Dutta had expected this interview too to go unnoticed and buried. But, it went viral. First online and then when she gave an interview to a television channel where she spoke candidly about the culture of harassment in Bollywood. It triggered an avalanche of #MeToo stories against industry biggies like Anu Malik, Alok Nath, Subhash Ghai, Mukesh Chabbra and Vicky Sidana. This time, with consequence. While CINTAA (which had initially buried Dutta's complaint) took up the matter again, the cops too filed an FIR. Support came from unlikely quarters: the film industry. Patekar was forced to step down from his role in Housefull 4, which was being shot at the time.

"Ten years ago, I was disappointed with the response I got. At the time, actors were treated as freak shows, not human beings with feelings. But, when support started coming in, I was surprised. Then, more support followed. When you have no expectations everything is a bonus."

The difference she says, lies in the consciousness of the people and a more evolved media. "Different publications and media houses gave me an unbiased platform to speak. This consciousness had risen partly because of the #MeToo movement in the West."

She agrees that the stories that have been told are just a tip of the ice-berg. Many actresses are possibly afraid of repercussions of speaking out. "People saw what I went through. I was subjected to slut shaming, legal notices and a vicious smear campaign."

In 2008, the episode drove her out of an industry in which she had just begun finding her feet, and in 2016, she finally moved to the US. In 2018, she agrees she came from a position of privilege where she no longer feared losing work or the anxiety of rejection. "I could afford to take this burden on myself and I am glad I did." Dutta's firm belief is that "we all should know our rights and be proactive in insisting that we get those rights. That they are enforced. That's when people will be careful."

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