Tanushree Dutta: #MeToo Moment Will Not Happen in India Until I'm Given Justice
The year 2017 witnessed the significant fall of one of Hollywood’s biggest producers Harvey Weinstein after he was accused of rape, sexual assault and abuse by multiple women in an exposé by the New York Times.
It was only the beginning as stars like Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner and Oliver Stone were also accused of similar conducts in the coming months.
The Weinstein expose, however, led to considerable change in the ability of women across the world to come forward and share personal stories of their experiences, thereby giving rise to the #MeToo movement. Soon, the movement caught on as a global phenomenon and started conversations around sexual harassment.
In October 2017, in response to #MeToo, a British production company Boudica films launched #NoPredators campaign to combat the “overt sexism that is deeply ingrained in the film industry” by introducing a new code of conduct for film productions. In Sweden, more than 500 actresses, including Oscar winner Alicia Vikander, had called out widespread sexual harassment and abuse in the country's film and theater industry.
But unfortunately, India didn’t experience anything similar to these movements. Even though a couple of Indian actresses like Radhika Apte, Richa Chadda, Swara Bhasker and Konkona SenSharma showed solidarity with the movement using the #MeToo hashtag, the impact of it was quickly forgotten in the country.
Now, Aashiq Banaya Aapne actress Tanushree Dutta has come forward and shared her own experience with harassment during her active years in the industry. “The thing is that our country has become so hypocritical, and people constantly ask why #MeToo movement is not happening in India, it won’t happen unless and until you’ll acknowledge what happened with me in 2008,” says Tanushree.
“The #MeToo happened in Hollywood a year or two back, but in India it happened several years ago. I was probably one of the first people in the history of this country in the media field to speak up and stand up. Everybody saw what happened but the memory and the popular perception of it is that Tanushree Dutta spoke up against harassment and then she was no more,” she adds.
For the uninitiated, in 2008, Tanushree had accused an unnamed actor of misbehaving with her during the shoot of a special number on the sets of Horn OK Please. She had alleged that the actor made her uncomfortable to an extent that she eventually had to opt out of the song.
“The entire industry saw what happened but there was not one word of condemnation from anybody. Every single person in this country remembers my incident and this was something on national TV for three days but even today there’s a stoic silence on that. So, my question is, ‘Who is going to believe these hypocrites?’ These are the people who stand up and raise their voice against women empowerment,” says Tanushree as she calls out Bollywood’s deafening silence over sexual harassment.
Tanushree says the entire incident shook her soul to the core and took away her belief from humanity.
She says, “It was a very complicated year for me. Firstly, nobody from the industry spoke up for me publicly, and on the top of that they continued working with the perpetrators.”
Describing the on-set encounter with the actor, she says, “He was trying all kind of intimidation tactics to rattle me. He was grabbing me by the arms, pushing me around then he would ask the choreographers to move and teach me how to dance, and the next thing I know he wanted to do an intimate sequence with me. It was ridiculous.”
Tanushree claims that the said actor was not supposed to be a part of the song in the first place and her contract clearly stated that it was a “solo” dance sequence. “I was literally cornered and I was protesting that I don’t want to do that intimate dance step with him because I was uncomfortable with his proximity on set.”
When Tanushree turned down his advances, the actor allegedly called the members of a political party on the set to intimidate her. “They came and broke my car. It was a mob violence situation which I never faced before,” she claims.
Tanushree says that she soon developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and even the thought of going on a film set would petrify her.
“I got some 30-40 film offers after the controversy, but I was suffering from such major fear that I would not even want to go on a film set. Because when you go through such experience you think everybody is like that. You refuse to believe that I have worked with good people also.”
Post the controversy, Tanushree gradually faded away from the public eye. She was last seen in Jag Mundhra’s Apartment in 2010.
“It was necessary for me to step back because I also had to heal myself. Today, I have a lot more clarity. If I were to get back to into acting in Bollywood I’m 100 per cent sure that I would make better choices, work with better people and put myself in a better situation or else I would simply stay away,” says the 34-year-old actress.
She emphasises that she doesn’t mind getting paid less in the industry but she has to be treated at par with any star or superstar. “As a human being I don’t think I’m less than anybody and I think I deserve as much respect than any superstar. And, they thought I was not even worthy enough to be given that basic respect that if I’m complaining about something that it should be heard.”
Tanushree, who has now moved to the US, further adds that she will keep bringing up this issue unless and until her perpetrators suffer the consequences of their actions.
“Till the time I’m given justice no movement can start over here. I will keep bringing up this issue every time I’m here because I want to expose the hypocrisy of Bollywood that on one hand you are speaking about women empowerment, but everybody had a stoic silence on what happened with me and they have maintained it even today. In fact, they are not only maintaining the stoic silence but they are also working with the perpetrators.”