It took more than 80 women to speak up to finally send Hollywood producer and serial sexual predator Harvey Weinstein to prison. However, in India, male celebrities, accused of or outed as sexual predators are back to work, in full glory, while the women who’ve spoken up have had defamation cases filed against them, lost work and have also been slut-shamed.
The scene is worse in the Kannada film industry where firstly, women find it very hard to speak up and even when they do so, it’s their career and reputation that is affected and not that of the men accused. Actress Sruthi Hariharan, who alleged that actor Arjun Sarja had misbehaved with her on the sets of Vismaya, had to face trauma when she was slut-shamed and trolled for speaking about the incident.
That’s not all, she also has a defamation suit filed against her by the actor. “During the rehearsal, we delivered our lines and Mr Arjun hugs me. With no forewarning or permission, he runs his hands intimately up and down my back… During the course of production, every smutty innuendo he made, created an unpalatable work environment for me. His salacious invitations to meet him after work appalled me,” she’d said.
Sangeetha Bhat who kickstarted the #Metoo movement in Sandalwood spoke about her ordeal in the industry and narrated several instances of sexual harassment and decided to take a break from work owing to the trauma she faced. Director Ere Gowda too was accused of sexual harassment by a woman who chose to remain anonymous. Musician Raghu Dixit was named in #Metoo. After his name was revealed, Dixit went on to apologise but also sought to muddle the conversation by saying he was going through a ‘bad marriage’ and that he’d ‘misread the situation’. He is creating music for hit films, performing at gigs and even posted an update on Instagram about how he nearly lost his life when he was named, garnering sympathy. What’s alarming is members of the media continue to give publicity to predators despite everything they are privy to.
Actor Chetan, who is the Founder and Secretary of the FIRE (Film Industry for Rights and Equality) committee, which aims to tackle sexual harassment of women in the Kannada film industry, however, believes that it’s false to think that the #Metoo movement has not gained as much traction in the Kannada Film Industry (KFI) as compared to other industries. “Several women– both prominent and not– from all departments have taken stances against sexual harassment in their own capacities. KFI is also the first industry where members who believe in gender equality stood together on the same platform with legal basis to challenge sexual harassment and ‘casting couch’ via FIRE. This has resulted in considerable awareness among predatory men in our industry that such immoral, illegal actions will not be tolerated any longer, and this is surely a strong victory.”
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In a world where women have to face the wrath of colleagues and society, for speaking up, Rapper Aditya Parashar, who’s worked on seven movies so far in Kannada, says, “The sexual predators who were called out have now gotten back to leading normal lives like before and the people/fans who supported them before still do so. A lot of support within the industry is not shown directly to the victims owing to the ‘career risk’ involved in it, making it more difficult for the victims to open up. It’s really a sad state of affairs. Men have not been held accountable for their actions.”
Chetan adds, “Many women are hesitant to come forward because they know that women who do will be immediately blamed and castigated by insensitive, questionable members of the film industry. That’s why FIRE, without taking sides, believes in objective investigations and legal advocacy for those who believe they have been sexually harassed. We must work to sensitise those in our industry who are in positions of power especially those who are involved in deciding who is taken for roles and/or jobs. Secondly, we must challenge patriarchy from an intersectional way outside of the industry whether that be caste or class patriarchy.”
Almost every actress who’s spoken up in Sandalwood has been shut down, ostracised or forced to apologise. Actress Sanjana Galrani accused producer Ravi Srivastava of forcing her to do intimate scenes in her very first film. Weeks later, she was made to apologise for making that allegation. Actress Avantika Shetty of Rangi Taranga fame had alleged that she was objectified by producer KA Suresh who accused her of not being disciplined.
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The actress was asked to leave the film and she spoke up about it on Twitter. Post that, Avantika has hardly been seen in the industry. When Sruthi Hariharan spoke up about the harassment she faced, even the actresses who supported her were trolled. Actress Neethu Shetty, who was among them, says, “It took so many women to get Weinstein behind bars, but similar things have not happened here. However, I can sense that men are thinking twice about misbehaving. #Metoo movement has brought in apprehension about predatory moves, although it’s not something to appreciate as this is how it should’ve been from the beginning. Of course, a lot of men are not doing it not because it’s morally wrong, but because they’re scared of #Metoo.”
It’s not just men who support predatory behavior and misogyny, however. Actress Harshika Poonacha penned an open post when Sruthi’s case came to the limelight, where she slammed women who spoke up as those seeking publicity. “I would genuinely ask women to break their old patterns of thinking. It’s not about survival anymore, it’s time to live. We have to be more courageous,” Neethu, who says she calls out sexism among her own friends as well. “We have to start from the core, from our social circle. As for work, if someone is a proven #Metoo accused, I’m not going to work with that person, though it’s hard to know who is and isn’t these days,” she adds.
Anybody who speaks up in favour of a woman in the Kannada film industry is attacked too. Actors Prakash Raj and Chetan received flak for supporting Sruthi Hariharan. In a patriarchal industry that survives on hero worship, it’s going to take much longer for people to start believing women, What the women who have faced assault and abuse need is a safe platform to voice their stories and experiences, without being judged or traumatised further. Holding celebrity abusers accountable seems a long shot, for now.