#MeToo, conditions apply?

Thank God for Tanushree Dutta. Just when the pressure on us as a society, and Bollywood as an industry, to take a stand on the #MeToo movement was getting un-ignorable, she came along with her middlingly gross (but not troublingly gruesome) allegations against a has-been like Nana Patekar, whom there is not much risk in alienating, and everybody could finally be with it, and flaunt some cool #MeToo swank on their social media.

We are outraged by what has happened to Tanushree Dutta, the bold(er) amongst the Bollywood brigade is now tweeting indignantly. How dare Nana not understand that na means na? We will not stand for it! #MeToo! #MeToo!

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

Good for them, of course, and kudos to Tanushree who really seems to have had a harrowing time, and deserves all the support she can get.

But, I cannot help wondering that if Tanushree’s harasser had been some big-time movie-mogul-type moneybag—a Harvey Weinstein equivalent say, or a reigning superstar with his fingers in a dozen films, or a member of what they always call the “first families of Bollywood”—instead of a soft target like the over-the-hill outsider Patekar, all her “supporters” would have kept mum? Like they have done so many many times in the past? When powerful men have abused women, verbally, physically, emotionally, and gotten away with it? Or, even been admired for it, with their fan clubs bad-mouthing the women concerned and cheering their hero’s every move? (This is not an article for a filmy magazine, so, I will spare you the spicy stories. Besides, I am pretty sure you know them. We all do—we do not even have to read them, they just seep into our subconscious mind from the air itself, like tuberculosis.)

Or, maybe, I am being too harsh on the bold(er) brigade. I mean, when compared with old-school-industry wallah like Amitabh Bachchan, they even seem decidedly courageous. It was just so distasteful to see the “Big B” being asked what he made of the issue, and when he replied with a counter question (“Am I Tanushree Dutta? Am I Nana Patekar? No, right? So, why are you asking me this question?”), the gathered crowd responded with loud cheers and delighted applause. I could not understand what they were applauding exactly. The actor’s dialogue delivery (impeccable as always)? Or, his dismissive ‘I don’t want to get involved’ stance (craven, as always)? Everybody just... laughed along. Nobody pressed the question, nobody said, but sir, you have made films like Pink, you have mouthed dialogues like “No means No”, surely you must have a take on this issue? The mic was meekly passed along to Aamir Khan who said he was not equipped to comment as he did not know the details of the case, but that he would say that such incidents are “very sad”.

When compared with this level of abdication, the bold(er) brigade does seem to be sticking something out—if not its neck, then at least a French-manicured fingernail or a lock of hair extensions.

For now, it seems, we will have to be content with that.

But, if we want to see the sort of battle that is raging in the US, with women everywhere rallying together to speak their truth to power, constantly, unapologetically reminding the patriarchy that they vote, and wrestling hard to wield some agency back into their lives, then we will have to dig deeper and grow braver.

Otherwise, on #MeToo, we just come across sounding just tokenistic, wannabe and me-too.