Tanushree Dutta, in the eye of storm after her renewed charges of harassment against veteran Nana Patekar, tells Subhash K Jha why she spoke up 10 years after the incident.
How do you intend to tackle the legal notices sent by Nana Patekar and Vivek Agnihotri?
I haven’t really figured out how one tackles a situation where the offender takes a legal recourse. I am the one who is the aggrieved party and they are threatening legal action against me. Isn’t this highly ironical?
And we have senior personalities like Shakti Kapoor and Gajendra Chauhan making fun of your serious allegations?
What can I say? This is the mind-set that needs to be changed. Men in our entertainment industry and in our society at large think demeaning and insulting women is their birth right. It is such mind-sets that lead to serious crimes against women. Today’s eve teaser is tomorrow’s rapist.
Are you and your family safe?
I don’t know how safe we are. I was attacked by MNS goons when the incident (with Nana Patekar) happened in 2008. Now when I spoke about I am being attacked by the same goons.
Not much has changed during the ten years. I am being bullied maligned hounded and a smear campaign is on against me. The first thing they do when a woman accuses a powerful of misconduct is label her badchalan (of loose character).
What made you speak up about the incident?
I want my intentions to consciously draw attention to the incident. I am here in India for a holiday. I was giving interviews when I was asked about the sexual harassment at the workplace. This is when I spoke about the incident in 2008. Mind you, I spoke about a lot of other things. But this is what the media latched on to. And I am happy. Because a debate has been opened up on the whole issue of sexual harassment.
You had spoken extensively about it when it had happened?
Yes, I had. So it’s not as if I am speaking about it now. I had tried to get justice for myself when the incident happened from every possible organization. Even the police and the judiciary let me down. When the perpetrator filed a counter-FIR I was advised to just keep quiet about it. ‘Right now you’re making the rounds of police stations. If this is going to go to court you will be doing the rounds of the courts for ten years.’ They said that. In this country you need a lot of money and patience to fight a legal battle. The criminals have the resources.
Is this the reason why you left the country?
Of course. I was being bullied into dropping my charges. I got no help from any quarters.
And has the situation changed now?
Not much. I am hoping for more voices to come forward and speak with me. It is a known fact that the entertainment industry is strewn with predators. For years now, women have accepted the bullying and harassment as ‘normal.’ Now with the #MeToo movement gathering so much support I hope at least some women in the entertainment industry would come forward and speak out. But so far I don’t see it happening.
Would you say you are disappointed by the lack of support from powerful voices in the Indian film industry?
Look, I can’t complain. At least these voices are bringing attention to the disease. But I don’t see a #MeToo movement happening in India. We are a long way from that. Just me speaking about my experience cannot start a movement. How long can I go on speaking about it? The attitude of women in our entertainment industry to such harassment is a far cry from the West.
What exactly had happened with Mr Patekar?
It was a dance sequence for a film called Horn Ok Pleassss. He was not part of it. But he insisted on being on the set. He bullied me. He crossed all limits of decency. He was pulling my hand, pushing me, shouting at me….I had never encountered such boorish behaviour from any of my co-stars before this.
Perhaps such behaviour especially from Mr Patekar is considered normal? Dimple Kapadia had apparently called him ‘obnoxious’?
Yes, but what happened after that? Just a random comment here or there, or powerful voices speaking in ambiguous tones and in parables, isn’t going to help. Men who are predators need to be named and shamed. There are other incidents involving Nana Patekar. He had threatened a man with a gun once. But like me, the man was silenced.
Aren’t you afraid that Mr Patekar has powerful friends?
He has no powerful friends. It is just a perception created by his friends. I have really powerful voices like Maneka Gandhi supporting me.
Aren’t you afraid you may end up fighting a long legal battle?
Bullying is not going to scare me. Criminals are often seen to take the initiative in sending out legal notices. They have the resources and the knowledge of how to use the law to their own advantage. Unless the laws regarding sexual harassment change, women in our country will continue to be intimidated and bullied.
How far are you going to go in this fight against predatory bullying?
I didn’t plan this. I never planned anything in my life. I firmly believe Man proposes God Disposes. From being a model to a beauty queen to an actress…It all happened to me without my intervention. Doors opened for me and I walked through them. It hasn’t always been a pleasant walk through the door. I am here in India with an open ticket. I am waiting to see where this goes. I am hoping more voices will join me. Otherwise this will come to nothing.
Would you be disappointed if more voices don’t join you?
I’ve been on a spiritual quest for ten years. I’ve experienced all religion, embraced them all to finally embrace no religion at all. I strive to find a meaning to life. Who knows where I will go from here?