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Does Bollywood fear its own Harvey Weinstein? Industry reacts to Maneka Gandhi’s letter

In the wake of the spiralling scandal of sexual predators in Hollywood, Union minister Maneka Gandhi has asked Bollywood to abide by the law on sexual harassment. But why only us, ask those who got the letter.

Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi has sent letters to 24 leading production houses of Bollywood, reminding them of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Work act. After the Harvey Weinstein case — and other sexual predators exposed afterwards — taking Hollywood by storm, it seems that Bollywood is on the government’s radar now.

In the notice, sent to producers such as Aditya Chopra, Karan Johar, Ekta Kapoor and other big names, the minister has written: “The aim of this law is to ensure that no woman is sexually harassed at her workplace. This is to be followed in letter and spirit by all organisations in the country and I expect you to personally lead these efforts with sincerity and commitment, in accordance with all the applicable laws.”

Recently, actors such as Swara Bhaskar and Tisca Chopra have shared ugly incidents of harassment and casting couch, as experienced by them.

“During a 56-day outdoor shoot at a remote location, when I was still fairly new [in Bollywood], the director harassed me with texts and dinner invites. He stalked me during the day and called me through the night. I was asked to go to his hotel room on the pretext of discussing a scene and would find him drinking. During the first week itself, he started talking about love and sex, and one night, he arrived in my room, drunk and asking to be hugged. It was scary,” Swara had recalled in an interview.

Tisca had earlier said, in a humorous manner, how a veteran filmmaker asked her to come to his room at night, apparently to read a script. Once she got there, she found him wearing a tight satin lungi. But according to how Tisca described it, she already had made a tactful plan to extricate herself — and that plan worked. Good presence of mind there, but the actor’s more recent attempts to blame women for sexual harassment didn’t go down so well with the public.

In an article, Tisca wrote: “I’m going to be very categorical when I say that women are just as much to blame, because they put themselves in those vulnerable positions. Why do these women go to hotel rooms? Do they not fear for their personal safety? Have they not heard of people’s reputations, and why do they engage with those men?” The write-up, as expected, got furious reactions.

Actor Richa Chadha feels that the minister’s letter and similar actions would serve as a warning to the culprits. “There is already a ruling that a Vishakha Committee (for investigating sexual harassment allegations) has to be in place in all organisations. With more awareness and discussion, perpetrators will become wary,” she says.

However, producer Pritish Nandy, who confirmed receiving the letter from the minister’s office, raised the question why companies in Bollywood have got the letter, seeing that sexual harassment is everywhere. “I certainly think that sexual harassment exists in other industries and it exists in Bollywood as well. However, I don’t understand why the entertainment industry is picked separately,” says Nandy. “We’ll definitely abide by the law. I’ve never had any sexual harassment complaint in my company in the past 10 years, and I hope that continues. We have a proper committee to handle such a scenario in our company.”

Others have even stronger views on Maneka Gandhi’s letter. Ashoke Pandit, vice-president of the Indian Motion Picture Producers’ Association (IMPPA), believes that this letter was uncalled for. He says, “We don’t need a reminder. It is the basic duty of every person to make sure that every woman and every child is protected. This is quite funny and looks like a mockery. Has the minister sent such advisories to the soap or textile industry as well? Because sexual harassment exists everywhere. The maximum number of women are working in our industry, be it in front of the camera or behind it. And as the vice-president of IMPAA, I do not agree with this action (of sending a letter).”

Then again, actor Sushant Singh, general secretary of the Cine And TV Artists Association (CINTAA), thinks that sending the letter is a good step even if people are already willing to respect the law. He says that as an artists’ union, this organisation always does whatever is best for its members, adding, “I think [the letter] is a very welcome step and all production houses should start talking about this topic. Education needs to be imparted. As CINTAA, our first advice to any member who has gone through this, is to go to the police. We provide all the legal help that we can to pursue the matter. We don’t make it our jurisdiction to interfere in such a matter because it’s a legal thing. Legal action should be taken.”

We tried to contact the ministry for a comment, but our attempt was not met with a response.

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