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Ek mein aur ek #MeToo

Updated on: 24 October,2018 05:57 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Mayank Shekhar |

Calling out serial offenders from showbiz will finally ensure there is nothing gossipy about sexual harassment at workplaces anymore

Ek mein aur ek #MeToo

Representation Pic/Getty images

While I was in the early 20s myself, it seemed my first personal intern (mainly entrusted with transcribing interviews during her free-time) was way younger still. She'd contacted me after I'd visited her college (probably for a guest-lecture, or to judge an event). Those third-rate, Bill Clinton type jokes that followed her impending appointment, over dinner, were in seriously in bad taste, I told my friends: "How can you think/talk like that, boss?" Way out of line, they eventually agreed, as anybody would, in the real world.

Except, when she finally came over (I used to work from home then), while I was unsure if she was even an adult, she told me she was in fact an aspiring actor (she's established herself now). Over the past few months, with her mother always by her side, she had met some filmmakers, looking to cast fresh talents. One of them, a veteran actor-director, she told me, in a jiffy, had jumped her. This, when her mother had left her with him alone, in his living room, having gone to the frickin' loo for a couple of minutes.

The flamboyant star-filmmaker (he's no more) was as well-known as he was well-loved. And while I have absolutely no reason to doubt the incident, having shared it around with many back then, this is the sort of story that, through Chinese whispers, descends into gossip, gathering assorted embellishments, exaggerations, and associated legends along the way.

What does gossip do to unreported news? Seamlessly merge it with cannon of lies, so no one takes it as seriously while rounds and rounds of tattle get passed around at regular haunts of the film industry in particular. They go well with coffee/beer, and particularly come in handy when, as journalists, one's inevitably asked, "Arrey, tell us some goss, yar!"

And so someone or the other on the table starts: At an ad-film shoot recently, an aged star had a youngling AD (assistant director) go up to his vanity van to inform, "Sir, your shot's ready." Sleazily pointing to his bulging crotch, and inviting her in, he said, "So am I!"

Did he? Was that AD shushed up in lieu of a solid promotion? Hard to say. Did that old hero flash his asset to another assistant once, who was actually the niece of a famous filmmaker? Impossible to verify. This is the sort of stuff that gets eagerly consumed as "blind items" in columns listing similar gossip—an altogether allied entertainment industry of its own that, for decades, has existed for the gargantuan benefit of people, hugely inclined towards talking about other people—a fairly low form of conversation, if you ask me. They also find it safest to collectively bitch about good-lookies from show-business. Why?

For, one, everybody assumes popular celebrities to be common acquaintances anyway— rather go there, than tattle about actual, common friends, which will most likely land you in trouble, no? Also, there is confirmation bias at play, since we suspect the worst about the rich plus famous (they couldn't possibly be the Gods fans and fanzines make them out to be).

What changes with #MeToo, a spontaneous movement emboldening women, more so in the entertainment industry, to call out serial, sexual predators/harassers from their present, potential or former workplaces? For once, it actively delinks a serious crime, which used to get clubbed with casual gossip, usually about who's (consensually) sleeping with whom, that should ideally be nobody's business, to begin with.

You want to know how this is a huge, nearly overnight leap from only a couple of decades ago, when even families from the film industry (stars, producers) would rather not send women (wives, daughters) to work in the movies, given that they perhaps knew better, even as they wanted their sons to be super-stars.

Well, consider this infamous episode from December, 1979: Actor-producer Sanjay Khan is pissed off with his co-star Zeenat Aman (who he was also in a relationship with, but that's beside the point). Khan wants extra dates from Aman's schedule for his film Abdulla, while she's totally booked out. To pacify Khan, Aman drives down from Lonavala to the Taj (in Colaba), where he's partying with a bunch of socialites, including Parmeshwar Godrej and Zarine, his wife.

He's presumably sozzled, which is honesty a useless piece of info. Khan allegedly takes Aman to a room next-door, and starts whacking the hell out of her, dragging her on the floor, pulling her by the hair, grinding his boot on her face. All of this apparently happens in public. A battered, bruised Aman is escorted out through the hotel exit. Nobody does a thing. Nothing happens to Khan.

Aman herself presses no charges. The story gets reported in the following month's issue of gossip mag, Cineblitz (perhaps other fanzines too). Shobha De, who used to edit Stardust then, writes in her memoir, Selected Memories, that if the same episode had occurred now, Khan would've been in jail. Yup.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to

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