MINISTER WRITES TO FILM INDUSTRY OVER WOMEN’S SAFETY
INDIA last week issued a rare diktat to its powerful movie moguls, reminding Bollywood to keep women safe from the sort of sex abuse allegations poisoning the US film industry.
The minister for women and child welfare, Maneka Gandhi, wrote to major production houses last Wednesday (14), asking them to comply with the Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act, which stipulates a series of processes to protect women at work.
“Bollywood filmmakers are ethically and legally accountable for the safety of not only their direct employees but of all outsourced and temporary staff as well,” a tweet posted by Gandhi’s ministry, quoting from her letter, said.
Indian firms with 10 or more employees must set up committees to look into complaints of sexual harassment and ensure that female staff know their workplace rights.
Bollywood has not, so far, faced the kind of allegations that have rocked the US film industry and led to the downfall of powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.
The vast majority of Bollywood’s biggest producers and filmmakers come from prominent film families who, until recently, controlled most of the high-profile, lucrative industry.
But last month, a Bollywood actress said she had been harassed by an unnamed director early in her career.
The minister wrote letters to 24 producers urging them to comply with India’s 2013 sexual harassment act.
“The aim of this law is to ensure that no woman is sexually harassed at her workplace,” Gandhi wrote.
“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,” she added.
It follows an interview that Bollywood actress Swara Bhaskar gave to a regional tabloid in November, in which she said she had “lost a few roles” over the years because she “didn’t give in” to unwanted advances.
Bhaskar urged aspiring actresses to reject parts rather than “get on the couch”, a reference to the “casting couch” culture where young women are expected to exchange sexual favours to be cast in a film. The issue is almost never discussed in Indian media or talked about openly by Bollywood stars, but aspiring actors and actresses are known to regularly share their experiences of it privately.
Actress Priyanka Chopra’s mother revealed last month how at the start of her career, the former beauty queen walked out of a “prestigious” project following misconduct by a filmmaker.
“She was just 17 when she entered the industry, so I accompanied her every minute of the day till about three years ago. A gentleman meets her and says: ‘Will your mother sit outside while I narrate the story to you?’ Priyanka told him, ‘If it is a story that my mother can’t hear then it is a story that I cannot do.’ She walked out of that project – a prestigious one,” Madhu Chopra recalled.
On another occasion, Priyanka was told the director’s brief was to dress her in revealing clothes. She refused and exited the project, losing further films, her mother was quoted by Indian media as saying.
Since the Weinstein scandal first broke some Indian actresses, including Kalki Koechlin and Richa Chadha, have said Bollywood needs to create an environment where victims can speak out without fear of being ostracised or trolled on social media.
Bhaskar said the cliquey nature of Bollywood, where many of the leading stars and directors are either friends or related to each other, made going public with allegations difficult.
While some big Bollywood names have been charged with rape and harassment, they have rarely lost their peers’ support.
The CEO of Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, Ajit Andhare, was quoted in an Indian newspaper as saying, “This is a procedure which we follow committee-wide, in every department. We deal with it in an organised manner.”
Krishika Lulla, the managing director and executive vice-chairman of Eros International, added, “If anyone has a problem, they are open to speaking about it and we take action immediately. We have always been protective of them. I, being a woman, understand this and we know how to handle such situations.” (Agencies)