Issue :   
November 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.         November 2018 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:November' 2018


In the #MeToo fire

Gautam Kaul

Devyani Chaubal Today I am missing an intrepid film journalist of Mumbai who was considered as the most feared film scribe in her profession. That was Devyani Chaubal. Pan -chewing, a well spread midriff, and a laugh that sent shivers to her enemies, Devyani could sniff out a scandal where none would be able to find. Her single column in the Star and Style Weekly (‘Frankly Speaking’) in the 1970-80s was enough to keep the film world of Mumbai agog with what would now follow.
D e v y a n i claimed she was Rajesh Khanna’s friend. Some said she was his mistress. You were left to your choice to brand her as you wished but make it sound scandalous, and she was not complaining. If she was alive, she would have dug deep her fangs into the happenings going on involving Nana Patekar and Tanushree Datta on sexual harassment on the movie set. Devyani kept a retinue of informers consisting of spot boys, fifth assistants to film directors, and disgruntled female starlets to feed her with accounts of what was going on in the many homes of films stars, and film studios. She in all probability was the first woman writer in having started in what we may say as “bitchy journalism”! Professionally, Devyani Chaubal was a worthy successor to another fighter for the dirty truth in the film industry, namely Baburao Patel, editor of a magazine called ‘Film India’.

Madhubala and Dilip Kumar Patel’s forte was his strong off the cuff writings which sold well at bookstalls. He too kept some news assistants to track studios one by one and pick up news on the peccadilloes of films stars. Often, he fell foul of the film stars who sued him for damages in courts. But Shanta Apte was of sterner stuff. She had walked into Patel’s office and assaulted him with her slipper in full view of the scribe’s staff. That made news in other newspapers!
If a reader were to collect the writing of these named writers, one will get an idea that what is happening today as reported slander matches between one actor and other actor, is not new. The story is as old as the performing arts itself. You can name an Indian actor, and I will recall his or her slanderous conduct. The earliest reference of any such scandal reported in a newspaper in India, could be a report in the Bombay edition of ‘Times of India’ during 1927, when a lead anglo-Indian actress, Ermaline, filed a case in a criminal court against Chaturbhai Patel, a cameraman of Shri Krishna Film Company, where she was also employed, for attempting to outrage her modesty. For the better part of the year this court case held its own attention and Ermaline emerged without damage to her movie image or acting prowess.
Any person associated with film production if he was rich finally because of this work, normally developed a sense of power over the workers, he employed. Female artists were normally the victim of such exploitations. There is a telling scene in film ‘Teesri Kasam’, where the character played by Waheeda Rehman refuses a marriage proposal, because she must obey the manager of the travelling drama company who uses her to get drama bookings in the zamindar’s havelis, by getting her to share the bed of the village patron. In film ‘Guide’ something similar is referred to, by Rosie (Waheeda Rehman) in a dialogue with Raju the guide.

Durga Khote and Devika Rani Women, illiterate and wanting to develop for themselves a career in theatre, have used their feminine gender to some advantage. India’s first film heroine, Kusum Kumari, fleeced her lover film director-producer Hiralal Sen, of all his wealth and then disappeared. Some preferred to get themselves married into good fortune like Gauhar Jan. Soluchana Senior also kept a flock of male lovers and held court despite what the newspaper may report and so was Shanta Apte in the 1940s.
Sometimes, a romance that started in the studio would enter severe rough weather. When Dilip Kumar was smitten of Madhubala and she shunned his advances, he bribed an assistant film director in K Asif’s unit of Mughal-e- Azam, not to approve a slap scene until he slapped her 40 times in retakes. Around the same time Nimmi was able to slap Dilip Kumar very hard for his attempt to play mischief during the shooting of film Tarana. In both the instance, the actress did not go to the press and report the incidents. The matter stayed under wrap all the time.
In 95 per cent cases the hero in the Indian film industry remained a wolf in sheep skin in his personal life. Therefore it was a wild world for any female artist to work in film studios ‘untouched’.
The trend in the film industry began to change when women from prosperous families also stepped into the profession of dramatic arts and began to set some rules for themselves. Durga Khote and Devika Rani were the pioneers in this trend. The Kapoor Klan women were also strictly off paws, but some male members of the same Klan found women fair play if they themselves offered to play around. The stories around Gemini Ganesan in south Indian cinema and Uttam Kumar in Calcutta were many, but they did not appear in press reporting.

Tanushree Dutta - Nana Patekar What has changed now is the new wave among the actresses to become bold and not take the male attention lying down when not wanted.
The first was Preeti Jain, a starlet who some six years ago accused a prominent film director of rape and breach of trust and dragged him to court. This man still managed to save his skin, but not his public reputation. Tanushree Datta had reported her humiliation in 2008 and filed her complaint to the professional artist’s union for redress. This trade association simply put her complaint in the file and stayed silent.
The complaint was against a senior male artist of the Marathi-Hindi film industry who also enjoyed local political patronage. Finally when Tanushree persisted, her complaint was resurrected as she had announced she would be filing a similar complaint in the local court. The Union immediately offered a public apology to the artist and defused the matter. The apology should be seen as a moral victory for Tanushree. It was a case of seizing a piece of meat from the mouth of a wolf! Tanushree Datta still needs to drag the film studio owners and management in such cases. Every studio in the country is a company and a business which employs more than ten hands. All such companies and businesses are required by Labour laws to have committee in office which can look into reported cases of sexual harassment of employees. Not one such business has a notified committee on its floor and all of them can be separately prosecuted by the State Labour Commissioner for violating the government orders.
Miss Datta should also file a police complaint against unknown persons once when she felt threatened from Patekar and others. Tanushree has been provided a police guard now because of the public outcry in the popular media.
The incident presently cannot be put under the carpet and a State intervention is necessary. A PIL in the Bombay High Court for rampant violation of labour laws by film studios must be filed and pushed to a verdict.